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Crowds, Power, and Transformation in Cinema

Lesley Brill

Publication Year: 2006

From Intolerance to The Silence of the Lambs, motion pictures show crowds and power in complex, usually antagonistic, relationships. Key to understanding this opposition is an intrinsic capability of the cinema: transformation. Making unprecedented use of Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power, Lesley Brill explores crowds, power, and transformation throughout film history. The formation of crowds together with crowd symbols and representations of power create complex, unifying structures in two early masterpieces, The Battleship Potemkin and Intolerance. In Throne of Blood, power-seekers become increasingly isolated, while the crowd of the dead seduces and overwhelms the living. The conflict between crowds and power in Citizen Kane takes place both within the protagonist and between him and the people he tries to master. North by Northwest, Killer of Sheep, and The Silence of the Lambs are rich in hunting and predation and show the crowd as a pack; transformation—true, false, and failed—is the key to both attack and escape. Brill's study provides original insights into canonical movies and shows anew the central importance of transformation in film. Film theorists, critics, and historians will value this fresh and intriguing approach to film classics, which also has much to say about cinema itself and its unique relationship to mass audiences.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book incurred its greatest obligations at the beginning and end of its creation. The late Steve Rosen of St. Peter’s (New Jersey) telephoned me one memorable day to suggest that I might find the multitude of ideas in Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power well suited to the study of film. ...

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pp. ix-x

This study attends to aspects of the cinema that have been mostly ignored or have proven difficult to categorize and analyze. Although it draws on diverse scholars to inform its approach, it primarily enlists Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power, bringing to the study of motion pictures Canetti’s understanding of crowds ...

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pp. 1-20

Movies are crowd machines. They doubtless do other things as well, but most of them excel at gathering crowds and presenting images of them. Like all mass media, film creates, communicates with, and represents masses. Having seen specific movies and having opinions about them constitutes an all-but-indispensable credential ...

Part I. Power versus Crowds

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1. Crowds and Power in Two Silent Films: Eisenstein’s: The Battleship Potemkin and Griffith’s Intolerance

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pp. 23-52

Moving pictures have an affinity for crowds, both in their imagery and in their distribution and consumption. That affinity made itself evident early in the history of the cinema and was well understood in the practice of many filmmakers by the middle of the silent era. ...

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2. The Comedic Crowds of Preston Sturges

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pp. 53-74

Few filmmakers have portrayed crowds or addressed the implied crowd of the audience as shrewdly as Preston Sturges. Nor have many understood so well the deep connection between crowds, love stories, and comic narratives. Even in Unfaithfully Yours (1948), a film largely concerned with its protagonist’s paranoid fantasies ...

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3. The Deceitful Dead and the Triumph of Nothing: Kurosawa’s: Throne of Blood

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pp. 75-98

For all the freedom it takes with its source, Kurosawa’s stirring, austere transformation of Macbeth remains remarkably faithful to the spirit of its original. As with Shakespeare’s great work, Kurosawa’s offers apt, precise emblems for the kind of survival sought by power, ...

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4. Crowds, Isolation, and Transformation in Welles’s: Citizen Kane

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pp. 99-118

With Citizen Kane we turn to the most researched, interpreted, and annotated film in cinema’s brief history. Yet even for this picture, attending to crowds, power, and transformation illuminates some generally neglected issues. More strikingly, such ideas allow one to simplify and streamline much of the commentary that already exists; ...

Part II. Predation versus Transformation

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5. Packs, Predators, and Love in Hitchcock’s: North by Northwest

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pp. 121-142

North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 comedy-thriller, has enjoyed enduring favor for more than forty years among both popular and academic audiences. The latter, indeed, have made it one of the more explicated works of the director who is by far the most analyzed and written about auteur in the history of cinema. ...

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6. “Boundaries, Burdens, and Stings”: Living as Prey in Burnett’s: Killer of Sheep

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pp. 143-164

Despite enjoying a considerable reputation among those who know it, Charles Burnett’s first feature-length film has been little seen by movie audiences and has achieved only modest repute among film scholars and critics. This state of affairs is not surprising; Killer of Sheep (1977) has never been commercially distributed.1 ...

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7. Changing Places: Predation, Transformation, and Identity in Demme’s: The Silence of the Lambs

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pp. 165-186

In light of the concept of transformation, we may reflect on the nature of the twenty-four frames per second that pass through motion picture projectors. The hundred-thousand-plus photographs making up a movie comprise more than so many pictures whose rapid succession dupes our overwhelmed optical pathways into seeing motion. ...

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Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 187-194

This book argues that attending to representations of crowds, power, and transformation can lead us to new or clarified perspectives on the cinema. Although Crowds and Power does not serve as the only guide for the analyses in this study, it is by far the most important one. ...

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Afterword: On Crowds and Power

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pp. 195-212

Born in Bulgaria into a community of Sephardic Jews in 1905, Elias Canetti moved with his family to England when he was about six. His father suddenly died a year later and the family moved to Vienna; Canetti attended schools there and in Zurich for the next fifteen years or so. ...

Appendix: Summary of Crowds and Power

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pp. 213-258


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pp. 259-272


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pp. 273-279

Back Cover

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p. 293-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337363
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814332757

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 33
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series