- The Culture and Philosophy of Ridley Scott ed. by Adam Barkman, Ashley Barkman, and Nancy Kangs
Anthologies typically provide diverse theoretical, philosophical, and historiographical approaches, which is perhaps the feature that most attracts readers. This is especially the case with The Culture and Philosophy of Ridley Scott, where the editors have assembled an international team of Ridley Scott scholars from a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, history, film, literature, and theology, thus making this volume more eclectic than the series of books in philosophy and popular culture published by Open Court, Wiley-Blackwell, and the University Press of Kentucky. Co-editors Adam Barkman (manga, Ang Lee) and Ashley Barkman (The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory) have themselves previously edited or contributed to such collections. While one essay in particular follows the formula found in those sorts of books, the scope of The Culture and Philosophy of Ridley Scott is broader, and this collection benefits from this wider net.
The editors’ introduction includes an overview of Scott’s filmography, a discussion of the book’s methodology (including the auteur theory), and the major themes in his films, before the customary introductions to the chapters. Save for Robin Hood (2010), all of Scott’s features through Prometheus (2012) are covered extensively in the eighteen essays in this collection, as well as the television series Numb3rs (CBS, 2005-2010), a Scott Free production. (Were the volume only released a couple of years later it could have included commentary on Exodus: Gods and Kings !) Even if Numb3rs may not be as familiar to some readers as the films, Janice Shaw grounds the series in classic (hardboiled) detective fiction and film noir, with examples from various episodes, speaking to the show’s interest in the dialogue between science and religion/philosophy.
Indeed, The Culture and Philosophy of Ridley Scott fills several holes in Ridley Scott scholarship; while the director has certainly merited numerous articles and books, Thelma & Louise (1991), Black Hawk Down (2001), and especially Blade Runner (1982), have drawn the lion’s share of scholarly attention. Perhaps because of his box-office appeal and his work in genre films and epics, Scott has not been the subject of as many auteurist studies, yet a third of the essays discuss two or three Scott films, challenging the notion that his work lacks stylistic and thematic consistency. For instance, co-editor Nancy Kang’s opening chapter analyzes social difference and race in American Gangster (2007), Black Rain (1989), and Body of Lies (2008).
One of the strongest chapters in this collection is Silvio Torres-Saillant’s essay on the little-seen 1492: Conquest of Paradise, where he examines the historical controversies surrounding the film’s release in 1992 (traditional versus revisionist interpretations), but also includes the scholarship on Columbus since the quincentenary. Charting the history of how the Columbus legend was built in early U.S. history, Torres-Saillant also contrasts the Columbian enterprise with Marco Polo’s less racist explorations of Central and East Asia.
There are two chapters on Scott’s debut feature, The Duellists (1977): James Edwin Mahon offers a comparison to Joseph Conrad’s novella on which the film was based before turning to the strong theme of honor, while Carl Sobocinski looks at this historically accurate film and provides a solid background on dueling. Michael Garcia invokes several significant ethicists (Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Mill), with some attention to the portrayal of Muslims in Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Body of Lies. The discussion of ethics continues in the next chapter, as Ferando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns looks at Emmanuel Levinias’s ethic of responsibility in light of three more obscure Scott films: Black Rain, Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), and White Squall (1996).
David Zietsma’s contribution to Black Hawk Down scholarship includes how the film fits in with the reconstruction of the soldier-hero image, which supports the myth of redemptive violence, or “ethical violence.” This is particularly evident in how it ultimately “positions the enemies of America’s humanitarian intervention as choosing their...