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Reconstructing Film Studies

Edited by David Bordwell and Noël Carroll

Publication Year: 1996

With Post-Theory, David Bordwell and Noël Carroll challenge the prevailing practices of film scholarship. Since the 1970s, film scholars have been searching for a unified theory that will explain all sorts of films, their production, and their reception; the field has been dominated by structuralist Marxism, varieties of cultural theory, and the psychoanalytic ideas of Freud and Lacan. Bordwell and Carroll ask, why not employ many theories tailored to specific goals, rather than searching for a unified theory?
    Post-Theory offers fresh directions for understanding film, presenting new essays by twenty-seven scholars on topics as diverse as film scores, audience response, and the national film industries of Russia, Scandinavia, the U.S., and Japan. They use historical, philosophical, psychological, and feminist methods to tackle such basic issues as: What goes on when viewers perceive a film? How do filmmakers exploit conventions? How do movies create illusions?  How does a film arouse emotion? Bordwell and Carroll have given space not only to distinguished film scholars but to non-film specialists as well, ensuring a wide variety of opinions and ideas on virtually every topic on the current agenda of film studies. Full of stimulating essays published here for the first time, Post-Theory promises to redefine the study of cinema.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Wisconsin Studies in Film

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvii

Our title risks misleading you. Is this book about the end of film theory? No. It's about the end of Theory, and what can and should come after. What we call Theory is an abstract body of thought which came into prominence in Anglo-American film studies during the 19705. The most famous avatar of Theory was that aggregate of doctrines derived from Lacanian ...

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Part One. State of the Art

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pp. 1-21

As the title of this volume indicates, the editors suppose that film studies is at a historical juncture which might be described as the waning of Theory. In this context, we have attempted to assemble a body of writing that we hope suggest promising lines of research for the future. However, in order to help readers understand our concerns with present problems in cinema studies and ...

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1. Contemporary Film Studies and the Vicissitudes of Grand Theory

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pp. 3-36

What we now call "film studies" has existed for barely thirty years. During the mid -1960s film courses proved to be attractive humanities options throughout North American colleges and universities. Young professors of literature or philosophy, themselves often movie buffs, launched courses on Shakespeare and film or on humanistic ideas in Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray, ...

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2. Prospects for Film Theory: A Personal Assessment

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pp. 37-68

The rapid expansion of the film studies institution over the last two decades in the United States was undoubtedly abetted, in one way or another, by something called film theory, or, as its acolytes are apt to say, simply Theory a classy continental number, centrally composed of elements of Louis Althus ser, Jacques Lacan, and Roland Barthes, often with optional features derived, ...

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Part Two. Film Theory and Aesthetics

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pp. 69-89

The essays in this section explore the possibilities of sharply focused "piece meal" theory. Unlike adherents to all-encompassing Grand Theory, the writers in this section start from particular problems and build their theories as they go. The topics are diverse, ranging from women's roles in horror films to the place of imagination in empathizing with characters. In the spirit of di ...

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3. Psychoanalytic Film Theory and the Problem of the Missing Spectator

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pp. 71-86

As a field of inquiry, film studies is today composed of three distinct, though somewhat interdependent, areas of focus: history, criticism, and theory. Though there is some overlap, each area is characterized by a distinguishing set of conceptual and methodological issues. With a heavy reliance upon pri mary sources, film historical investigations demonstrate admirable scholarly ...

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4. Convention, Construction, and Cinematic Vision

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pp. 87-107

Cinema is partly pictorial representation, and we have come to expect, especially after the dissemination of Structuralist and Post-Structuralist theories, that the most enlightening accounts of pictorial representation will involve a theoretical account of conventions. Yet the humanities have not yet solved the problem of how to understand conventions; indeed, I am not convinced that ...

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5. Is a Cognitive Approach to the Avant-garde Cinema Perverse?

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pp. 108-129

Let me begin with an assumption: that a cognitive perspective is a useful means of explaining some aspects of the viewer's response to some kinds of cinema. For example, I take it that it is relatively uncontroversial that research on canonical story formats has something to say about spectators' engage ment with Hollywood-style films, which are often cut close to the pattern of ...

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6. The Logic and Legacy of Brechtianism

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pp. 130-148

In spite of Bertolt Brecht's own ambivalence toward the cinema, his ideas have exerted a wide and enduring influence on both its practitioners and theorists. In stressing the centrality of emotion, mobilized around and through characters, to the ideological and political functioning of narratives, Brecht produced one of the most tenacious arguments within twentieth-century...

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7. Characterization and Fictional Truth in the Cinema

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pp. 149-174

People who make fiction films typically devote a great deal of effort to the invention and portrayal of characters. Making sense of these characters is, in turn, a central part of most filmgoers' experiences. An adequate model of critical expertise would explain how competent spectators arrive at appropri ate understandings and evaluations of characters in films. No such model, ...

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8. Empathy and (Film) Fiction

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pp. 175-194

Ancient questions as to how and why it is that we can respond emotionally to characters and events which we know to be fictional, and whether it is rational to do so, have in recent years resurfaced and been at the heart of a debate as lively as any in contemporary aesthetics, a debate which continues to fill the pages of philosophical journals but which has so far resulted in little agree ...

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9. Feminist Frameworks for Horror Films

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pp. 195-218

The horizon for feminists studying horror films appears bleak. Since Psycho's infamous shower scene, the big screen has treated us to Freddie's long razor nails emerging between Nancy's legs in the bathtub (A Nightmare on Elm Street I), De Palma's exhibitionist heroine being power-drilled into the floor (Body Double), and Leatherface hanging women from meat hooks (The Texas ...

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10. Apt Feelings, or Why "Women's Films" Aren't Trivial

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pp. 219-229

It is common for philosophers of art to be interested in the elevating powers of tragedy, but it is equally common to scorn melodrama. Melodrama is typically considered to be bad art and hence of little interest. This is no wonder, since melodrama as a narrative form is typically associated with contrivance, drastic reversals and disasters, and narrow escapes, and, perhaps as a ...

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11. Unheard Melodies? A Critique of Psychoanalytic Theories of Film Music

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pp. 230-247

The critical concept of "unheard melodies" has exercised considerable power in recent years among film music scholars. According to this line of argument, film music somehow escapes or eludes the film spectator's perceptual awareness during the viewing experience. Because of the primacy of visual elements and narrative and because of certain psychic processes in the spectator, film ...

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12. Film Music and Narrative Agency

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pp. 248-282

In this essay I address certain issues about paradigmatic film music, that is, the music that is often heard in the course of a fiction film but that does not originate in or issue from the fictional world revealed on screen. What most interests me is the question that confronts every filmgoer at some level, and to which he or she must, explicitly or implicitly, accord an answer, of who or ...

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13. Nonfiction Film and Postmodernist Skepticism

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pp. 283-306

Perhaps no area of film theory invokes philosophy so quickly as does the discussion of nonfiction film. For inasmuch as a great many nonfiction films are meant to convey information about the world, film theorists are almost im mediately disposed to reach for their favorite epistemological convictions in order to assess, and-nearly as often-to dispute the knowledge claims of ...

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14. Moving Pictures and the Rhetoric of Nonfiction Film: Two Approaches

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pp. 307-324

History provides many examples of suspicion of visual images, but none so celebrated as that of Plato. In the famous "Plato's Cave" analogy, unsuspecting cave dwellers see only the ephemeral shadows cast by a reality outside the cave. From their vantage point, to which they are shackled, they see only the cave walls, and not outside. Having never left the cave, and having no expe ...

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15. Film, Reality, and Illusion

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pp. 325-344

It has been said that film is both a realistic and an illusionistic medium; indeed, these claims have often been treated as if they were indistinguishable. I wish to distinguish them, for I hold that film is a realistic medium-in a certain sense-and I deny that it is an illusionistic medium. I shall elaborate and de fend a version of realism about cinema, and I shall identify two versions of ...

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Part Three. Psychology of Film

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pp. 345-365

In preceding sections, several authors have spoken of the contributions that cognitive and perceptual psychology might make to debates in film studies. Consequently, a section devoted exclusively to such psychology seems apposite. Included in this section are a series of technical essays in psychology which not only address perennial topics of film theory, such as the nature of ...

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16. The Case for an Ecological Metatheory

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pp. 347-367

Hugo Miinsterberg predicted in 1915 that the "photoplay" would "become more than any other art the domain of the psychologist who analyzes the working of the mind." 1 As it turned out, he couldn't have been more wrong. Psychologists have actually had little effect upon either film making or film theory. In the case of the latter there has been an almost unanimous rejection ...

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17. Movies in the Mind's Eye

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pp. 368-387

Most writers on film, and most filmmakers, need no science. But any serious discussion of whether the medium was used effectively or artistically in any instance requires some understanding of how we perceive and remember moving pictures, and that must derive from research: introspection will not serve. Scattered aspects of cognitive science have begun to appear, therefore, ...

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18. Notes on Audience Response

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pp. 388-404

In the movie Lethal mapon II, the identity of the bad guys is known almost from the beginning: they are diplomatic representatives of South Africa. Because they have diplomatic immunity, they can commit crimes with no fear of punishment (or so the movie leads us to believe). As Joss Ackland, playing the chief criminal, puts...

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Part Four. History and Analysis

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pp. 405-425

Since the 1970s, many energetic scholars have revised our thinking about the history of cinema. This section presents eight essays which reflect the richness of contemporary historical research. In each case, the author poses concrete questions which open onto broader theoretical or historiographic issues. The section begins with two essays on the American film industry. Douglas ...

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19. Toward a New Media Economics

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pp. 407-418

Hollywood has just undergone a complete reorganization. Since 1984 we have seen new owners purchase the six major studios and begin to tackle the vexing problem of how best to deal with the coming electronic superhighway. These and other industrial changes prompt us to look back and reexamine how scholars have treated Hollywood as an industry. The contemporary ...

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20. Columbia Pictures: The Making of a Motion Picture Major, 1930−1943

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pp. 419-433

Starting out in Poverty Row, Columbia Pictures survived the battle for the theaters, the conversion to sound, and the Great Depression to emerge as a full-fledged member of the Hollywood establishment by 1934. In that year, giant film companies such as Paramount, Fox, and RKO had been dragged down by their theater chains into receivership or bankruptcy, but little Co ...

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21. "A Brief Romantic Interlude": Dick and Jane Go to 3 1/2 Seconds of the Classical Hollywood Cinema

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pp. 434-459

..."Don't worry what's logical. I make it so fast no one notices." Three quarters of the way through "America's most beloved movie," 1 Lisa Lund comes to Rick Blaine's rooms to try to obtain the letters of transit that will allow her and her Resistance leader husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), to escape Casablanca to America. Rick, the disillusioned romantic, re ...

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22. The Jazz Singer's Reception in the Media and at the Box Office

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pp. 460-480

There has been a discernible shift in film theory from propositions about pro duction to ones involving reception. Films tend to be regarded less as indus trial and formal artifacts made by studios and filmmakers, and more as con sumer goods. To determine their function and value, scholars are examining such issues as the psychology and perceptual activities of spectators and the ...

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23. Jameson and "Global Aesthetics"

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pp. 481-500

Fredric Jameson is one of a number of theorists from diverse fields who have turned their attention to the cinema as they have moved toward making more general claims about cultural production. Given that academic film studies has developed as the cuckoo in other disciplinary nests, it has a history of being receptive to these kinds of interventions. Consequently a lot of film theory ...

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24. Reconstructing Japanese Film

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pp. 501-519

In a scene from Kenji Mizoguchi's The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939), Kiku, the young ward of a famous Kabuki acting clan, meets the family nursemaid walking a baby late at night. He rides up in a rickshaw (Fig. 24.1), gets out, and begins walking with her. The camera tracks with them as they talk, but neither comes closer nor moves farther away (Figs. ...

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25. Danish Cinema and the Politics of Recognition

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pp. 520-532

I propose to examine the relation between film and its publics in a particular context of cinematic production, one where reflection on this connection, or lack thereof, is ongoing and urgent on account of prevailing hierarchies of cultural production. The context I have in mind is that of Danish cinema. I will thus be raising questions about the ways in which the meanings of ...

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26. Whose Apparatus? Problems of Film Exhibition and History

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pp. 533-552

The premise of Edwin Porter's Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902) is a rube's susceptibility to cinematic illusion. The title character is so thoroughly taken in by the images projected on screen that he thinks he can intervene in the fictional world they represent. In his awkward, frenetic efforts to do so, however, he merely tears down the movie screen, betraying the ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 533-560


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pp. 561-564

E-ISBN-13: 9780299149437
E-ISBN-10: 0299149439
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299149444
Print-ISBN-10: 0299149447

Page Count: 582
Illustrations: 57 b/w photos, 13 line illus.
Publication Year: 1996

Series Title: Wisconsin Studies in Film