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  • G-10 Criticism Of Film

A Books

Braudy, Leo, and Marshall Cohen, eds. FILM THEORY AND CRITICISM: INTRODUCTORY READINGS. Oxford University Press, 1998. xviii + 862 pp. $35.00.

Browne, Nick, ed. REFIGURING AMERICAN FILM GENRES: THEORY AND HISTORY. University of California Press, 1998. xiv + 326 pp. $50.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.

The current approach to the theory and practice of film genre, as represented in this collection of essays, contravenes the formalist and structuralist models undertaken in the 1970s and promoted over the last two decades. These models assume that genres are self-evident and self-referring categories. In countering this structuralist systematization of genre which has now faded, the contributors featured here pursue a more generative avenue. They argue that the functions of each genre have evolved over the course of film history, often responding to or reacting against other genres and social institutions such as religion, law, civil rights, diplomacy, medicine, and war. As a result, this critical consideration of film genres encompasses a wider, more powerful understanding of the role of popular culture in American society. Through the writings of such critics as Rick Altman, Leo Braudy, Thomas Schatz, Vivian Sobchack, and Linda Williams, three central preoccupations emerge: first, these essays revise the critical foundations of genre theory by investigating and redefining the presuppositions by which genres are thought to be designated, constructed, and employed; second, these essays develop new perspectives on the history and historicity of film genres; third, these essays reformulate the question of the logic of internal relations among genres. By surveying the history of American film, this study examines film genres as contested sites in which history, ideology, culture, and aesthetics all converge to shape—and reshape—popular, complex views of American life. Maurizio Giammarco, Temple University

Brunette, Peter. THE FILMS OF MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI. Cambridge University Press, 1997. 187 pp. $49.95 cloth, $15.95 paper.

It is difficult for me to remember completely the films of Antonioni, Rivette, or Fellini. These distinguished directors care little about the special effects, the multiple explosions, of our current American directors. Instead, they pursue epistemological questions; they wonder about identity, cultural disruption. I find it refreshing to read a comprehensive work of criticism devoted to the deep films of Antonioni, a director who tries to use the medium as a disturbing vision of existence. Barthes praised “Antonioni’s ability to make the object ‘vibrate’ to the detriment of dogma—and the notion of a vibrating object—which obviously has its graphic features—also leads inevitably to a more overtly philosophical inquiry into the classic problem of the relation between the object and its perceiver, the subject.” Antonioni’s best films “blow up” the static, visual perceptions that I have. They abound in cunning manipulation of images. This manipulation, although ultimately ambiguous and disconcerting, is truly “open.”

If I look at such films as L’Arcutura (1960), La Motte (1961), L’Eclisse (1962), Red Desert (1964), Blow-Up (1966), and The Passenger (1975), I cannot be certain. I cannot fully understand the disappearances, the silences of people (and objects), the extraordinary paradoxes of beginnings and endings. In The Passenger, there is a kind of blankness, “a palimpsest on which to write the self.” The film contains “implacable silences”: the famous ending in which the camera “moves incrementally but relentlessly through space.” Blankness, [End Page 484] silence, inexplicable movement—such cinematic qualities are difficult to interpret, but this very fact demonstrates that Antonioni resists simple description, concrete interpretation. And they do more. They suggest that we can never understand our “real” world.

Although Brunette writes a vigorous book about one of the most philosophical directors, he refuses to use jargon. He examines the films so closely—and admirably—that he makes me want to return to their shocking glory. IM

King, Kimball, ed. HOLLYWOOD ON STAGE: PLAYWRIGHTS EVALUATE THE CULTURE INDUSTRY. Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997. xix + 233 pp. $60.00.

From the earliest days of cinema, playwrights have been curious about Hollywood and have often depicted it as a cultural wasteland in which the industry’s obsession with profit has repeatedly led the filmmaking community to alter scripts in order to pander to the lowest level of...

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