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Reviews MystifyingMovies: Fads andFallacies in Contemporary Film Theory, by Noël Carroll; ? 8c 258 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988, $30.00. In MystifyingMovies, Noel Carroll employs the methods ofanalytic philosophy to challenge the central concepts and assumptions of contemporary film theory. This challenge is necessary because, he argues, the theoretical paradigm now dominating American and British film studies—an amalgam ofsemiotics, Marxism , and psychoanalysis—mystifies our understanding of cinema (p. 2). Carroll first provides a point-by-point critique of his opponents' arguments. Second, he advances a metatheoretical argument directed against the grand theorizing he defines as typical of contemporary film theory. In place of grand theory, Carroll recommends a more modest, piecemeal approach. In its nitty-gritty critical task, Mystifying Movies succeeds wickedly. It exposes the equivocation, fuzzy analogies, and overly hasty generalizations at the heart of what in recent decades has become the dominant school of film theory. Carroll conducts his systematic analysis with acerbic rigor. On his account, the problem with contemporary film theory arises from the type ofthinking undertaken, not merely from its execution. Contemporary film theory, he contends, attempts to explain "everything you ever wanted to know about film" with a single, unifying theoretical vocabulary. In aiming to treat issues as diverse as narrative coherence, ideological effect, and point-of-view editing in one overarching theory, contemporary film theory has led us to a dead end. As Carroll unabashedly concludes, "We must start again" (p. 234). In part, the success of the book's challenge to current theories depends on how well it delivers on its Cartesian promise—its promise to provide the foundations for a fresh start. Carroll's fresh start, however, appears to consist more in arguments against the prevailing grand theory than in a fully elaborated methodological alternative. Contemporary film theory, as he correctly observes, distinguishes itself from classical film theory by a commitment to a theoretical framework that derives from both Marxism and psychoanalysis. It replaces the "aesthetics of film" with Philosophy and Literature, © 1991, 15: 139-181 140Philosophy and Literature "ideologiekritik." Carroll objects not to the concern with ideology, but to the presumption that the cinema is inherently ideological. As he deftly argues, the concept of ideology is too broad, the description of subject-positioning oversimplified and the effects of any formal technique too unpredictable and context -dependent to produce the uniform oppression charted by the Marxian/ psychoanalytic paradigm. Although occasionally Carroll falls victim to his own hasty generalizations— e.g., that everyone from Christian Metz to Laura Mulvey regards the spectator as purely passive or that they all subscribe to a single research program—one must applaud him for having debunked the worst excesses of contemporary film theory. While clear about the failings of the views he examines, however, Carroll is less astute in explaining why the Marxist/psychoanalytic paradigm exerts such a powerful attraction for film theorists and theoreticians of the arts generally. Carroll also omits any discussion of feminist film theory. On his view, recent psychoanalytically informed, feminist film theory attempts to rebuild without its patriarchal assumptions a framework which, for reasons already elaborated, should simply be scrapped altogether (p. 8). Aside from its omissions, Mystifying Movies relies on an idiosyncratic understanding of psychoanalysis. Although Carroll stops short of arguing that psychoanalysis is always out of place in film theory, he wishes to circumscribe its application far more narrowly than is currently fashionable. Instead, Carroll seeks to explain the effects of film in purely cognitive terms. The result, while offering greater clarity than many psychoanalytic theories, also misses the unconscious appeal and magic ofthe movies. In dismissing feminism and Marxist/ psychoanalytic theory as a "dead end," Mystifying Movies implies that theories of film are like scientific theories (or like we used to believe scientific theories were, i.e., a search for the "truth of the matter"). To speak of needing to "start over" sounds suspiciously like reverting to one overarching theory offilm, surely a strangeconsequence fora book that set out tochampion a piecemeal approach. In its powerful criticisms of contemporary film theory, Mystifying Movies should be required reading for theoreticians of all persuasions. Carroll's unacknowledged hankering to return to days when film theory meant...


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pp. 139-140
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