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Different Visions, Revolutionary Perceptions race, gender, and sexuality in the work of contemporary filmmakers Daniel Bernardi (Arizona State University) Difference, I learn—whether gendered, racialized, or otherwise defined through the body—is often enforced by society, defined by those with power, and maintained by law, doctrine, and culture. laura kissel Story Most of us have heard George Bernard Shaw’s famous line, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” Although Shaw’s line has to do with revolutionaries, I have heard film students use a variant to chide film and media educators.1 It goes something like this: “Those that can make films, do. Those that cannot make films, teach.” A stereotype of sorts, the film school perversion of Shaw’s quote suggests there is but one kind of filmmaking—the kind that takes place outside of teaching. Similarly, it implies that the work of filmmaking isn’t also the work of teaching—and that teaching isn’t “doing.” Yet for better or worse, films influence our views about things even when we don’t want to learn or when the filmmaker is not interested in education. Indeed, people often learn about other cultures and countries—about difference—from what they see in movies. We might even say that films instruct us about difference in much the same way that teachers do. They act on audiences in ways that are indirect and direct, didactic and subtle—at times, even revolutionary. Those of us who teach critical and cultural studies face an equally simplistic charge that we read too much into the films we study. The line I hear early in almost every class on Hollywood film that I have taught goes something like, “It’s only a film. It’s just entertainment.” T4989.indb 1 T4989.indb 1 2/27/09 6:57:02 AM 2/27/09 6:57:02 AM 2 daniel bernardi The point, I think, is to suggest that by critiquing cinema, we give it more power than it actually wields. It also seems to suggest that the process of questioning a film—of reading a film critically, for example— undermines the pleasure we get from being entertained by cinema. I suppose these would be fair charges if moviegoers only rarely watched films. What impact can one or even a few films have on a person’s consciousness , let alone culture and society? But, of course, moviegoers do not “only rarely” watch films—none of us do. We have an almost insatiable desire to watch films, to read the stories they stem from and read and view the forms they give rise to. Hollywood films in particular are based on older stories, from novels to other films, and they are often repackaged for television, video games, and other venues such as entertainment and star magazines. Television works much the same way. An example is the life outside television enjoyed by the Star Trek franchise. Star Trek evolved from a low-rated series in the 1960s into an animated series, numerous feature films, and four spin-off television series, along the way engendering a universe of fan conferences, fanzines, and memorabilia. In the course of all this activity, it also created a myth that equates race with alienation.2 The point I’m trying to make is that storytelling is an enduring feature of films, and thus it is naive to think that watching films, if only for entertainment, has a value-neutral impact on society and culture. Films are powerful because they help direct our perceptions of each other and of difference. The goal of critical studies is to reveal this power. And that pursuit need not be unpleasurable. The experience of viewing a film becomes especially powerful when we stop questioning the work of cinema. Indeed, films are particularly ideological—engaged in troubling, even ugly discourses—when they intend only to entertain or when we watch them only to escape. Yet many filmmakers are thoughtful artists and storytellers who want to move their audiences to think critically, to feel passion, to experience something unique. At a basic level, watching a movie is not unlike listening to a lecture: it is an active and creative process that, at one extreme, can lead to boredom or, at the other, critical catharsis. The results , and the myriad of viewing experiences between these extremes, depend as much on the filmmaker as on the audience. Sometimes cinematic catharsis is based on personal experience. We may better...


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