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In his essay on the historical fiction film, Leger Grindon writes: "History is no more than a useful device to speak of the present time. The historical film indulges its contact with the immediate and generally refuses the past its distinct and foreign character" (Grindon 189). It is exactly this distinct character, however, that director Anne Wheeler hoped to capture in her 1989 film Bye Bye Blues. In an interview taken during the film’s production, Wheeler explained: "I’m trying to present history as it was, not as we hope it was" (Hays 9). With Bye Bye Blues, Wheeler has created more than simply what Grindon purports the historical fiction to be; her film captures much of the detail of life on the Canadian home-front during the Second World War. Wheeler does, however, weave into the film a deeper message about the role of the woman in society, which, ultimately, speaks directly to the audience of the 1990’s. While Bye Bye Blues is factual, the film does not depict history entirely as it happened.
This is not to say that Wheeler has overtly classified the forties as a period of triumph for feminists the world over, for she has not. Much of Bye Bye Blues is indeed authentic. "Wheeler has said time and again in interviews that stylistically, she likes to keep things as realistic as possible" (Hays 9). This is evidenced by the manner in which Wheeler tackles her subject; the film treats the events of the past with subtlety. "The overall impression left by accounts of life on the home-front is of ... boredom and ... deprivation punctuated by moments of terror" (Klein 10). Had the director exaggerated the events of the war, even on the home-front, she would have sacrificed some of the film’s realism. Instead of glorifying the war and over-dramatizing events like the return of Daisy’s husband, the story is presented in a straight-forward and unsentimental manner. Wheeler presents problems that are true-to-life, such as Daisy being unable to afford new shoes for her son.
And certainly the events the film addresses are historically accurate: Japan did invade Singapore at the end of 1940, taking enemy soldiers hostage as prisoners of war (Snyder 267). During the war, women were left to fend for themselves and their children, without knowing whether their husbands were dead or alive, let alone where they could write to them (Vickers 25).
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"Production Context of Bye Bye Blues." 123HelpMe.com. 12 Nov 2019
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Such devices present an image than can easily convince the viewer that the representation is accurate. However, while Wheeler’s film does reflect actual events in history, the director admits, "this is fiction ... I take a few liberties" (Hays 9). These liberties take the form of a strong statement regarding the woman’s role in society.
"In movies about women, all important historical and natural events are translated into terms of a woman’s daily life" (Basinger 213). In Bye Bye Blues this is entirely appropriate; Daisy’s life in Alberta is a relevant side to the war experience. To depict the Second World War in such a way is not to demean the event. What Canadian women did during the Second World War, for the most part, was to stay at home with their children and continue with their daily lives (Peate 13-21). However, Wheeler does more than simply present a woman’s side of history. What she has done is to put a feminist slant on the film, which sacrifices historical accuracy in order to address a contemporary audience.
"What makes this film more than just a trip down memory lane is that Wheeler subtly introduces the changes that the mid-century will bring" (Laffel 558). Using the forties as a backdrop, Wheeler projects the image of a nineties woman coming into her own. Through the course of the film Daisy is brought up to date with the nineties; by the film’s conclusion, "Daisy is the emancipated woman of today" (Laffel 559). Her music allows her to become her own woman. Rather than being defined as "woman as wife" or "woman as mother," Daisy is seen as, to use the terms of Claire Johnston, "woman as woman" (Johnston 221).
Although on the surface the film’s conclusion appears to portray a woman forfeiting her dreams for her role as a domestic, there are many more layers involved. Wheeler does follow the history books well, but there is a deeper meaning at the heart of her film. Whereas the film begins with Daisy running directly into her husband’s arms in fear of an erect snake (clearly a phallic symbol), by the film’s conclusion she is capable of handling herself: Teddy must go to her to embrace her. Daisy still rejects the snake (in the form of Max, who represents potent sexuality), but she need not run from it. She no longer makes her choice out of fear, but out of what she wants. "Daisy’s choice (is) made, finally, as her own person" (Laffel 559). While Daisy once stood behind a window, longing for a man ("I’m so lonesome," she mutters), both Teddy and Max are now behind their own windows. It is up to Daisy, in her newfound freedom outside the house, to make up her mind as to which she wants.
When the film ends, the final shot is not of Teddy and Daisy embracing, she about to return to her domestic lifestyle. Instead, the camera lingers on the tour bus as the band drives off. It is as if Wheeler has raised the question of the woman’s role, leaving it open for the nineties audience to interpret; the bus does not drive away from Daisy so much as it drives off into the horizon, toward the future.
It is in this way that Wheeler strays from her goal. The film’s tidy resolution of Daisy’s transition highlights the narrative structure, and belies the sense of truth Wheeler hoped to attain. For while Bye Bye Blues is representative of the forties in many ways, into the film’s structure is woven the image of today’s changing woman. By inflicting upon the film present-day knowledge of the role of women, Wheeler is interpreting history "the way we hope it was" instead of how it happened; hers is an "idealized vision of an era" (Holden C9). As such, Bye Bye Blues functions as an "address to the present" (Grindon 189).
Set against the Second World War, Bye Bye Blues reflects Wheeler’s views about what changes have come about for women. In this respect, Wheeler has taken liberties in her account of history. Despite this, however, the film is very much centered around real events and realistic reactions to them. Bye Bye Blues does not entirely abandon the character of the past to speak to the present, but its director has strayed from her initial intent by projecting modern views onto issues of the forties.