This short excerpt is from Places Journal's article "Prop and Property: The house in American cinema, from the plantation to Chavez Ravine," which in turn was adapted from John David Rhodes' book Spectacle of Property. The article, which investigates the many layers of property inherent in the production and viewing of movies, investigates in particular the films Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird, revealing how their themes of race and property are made even more complex by the practicalities of Hollywood filmmaking.
Perhaps the most mysterious and desired feature of housing is the privacy of property, and especially the property of and in the house. Property, however, is fungible and alienable. Whatever is promised by the house is radically susceptible to violation, displacement, and loss. Often the experience of property’s violation or redefinition involves an unwelcome reminder that the house is not a very private place after all. Partly we know this: we have all spent time in living rooms, on porches, or in other spaces of the house in which it is nearly impossible to say where the public ends and the private begins. But when property’s inherent instability is experienced vividly—whether in “real life” or in representation—we are forced to confront the tenuous relationship between public and private, as well as the tenuousness of all property relations as such.