Academic journal article Film & History

Discourse, Attitudes, and Values

Academic journal article Film & History

Discourse, Attitudes, and Values

Article excerpt

Elaine M. Bapis.

Camera and Action: American Film as Agent of Social Change, 1965-1975.

McFarland, 2008.

255 pages; $45.00.


This short, introductory text considers the ways in which cinema and history interact with one another, focusing in particular on how films can be used as evidence of the discourse, attitudes and values prevalent in a culture at the time they were created and released. By means of detailed case-studies, Cinema and History shows how historical analyses of film can be undertaken, and what methods can be employed to give such analyses an empirical, historical base.

The first chapter focuses on the history of reception studies, showing how scholars shifted their attention away from the isolated 'text' and considered instead how the meanings of such texts were shaped by the cultures that produced them. Chopra-Gant draws on Janet Staiger's hypotheses to show how films are "highly polysemic texts capable of 'speaking' within numerous discourses in the same historical moment as well as at different times" (21). To identify such discourses, the film historian can draw upon numerous sources: pre-release publicity material, reviews published in newspapers and magazines, diaries and oral histories. While some of these materials might be problematic (reviews, in particular, occupy a highly privileged position as opinion-formers in relation to the films they write about), they can be profitably used in conjunction with other responses to a film--for example, letters written by viewers to fanzines or more 'serious' publications.

Chopra-Gant's second chapter offers a case-study of how this methodology works in practice, by looking at the contemporary reception of Rear Window (1954). He argues that Hitchcock contrasts the ideal masculinities represented in other films of the period and the contemporary scientific discourses (set forth in the Kinsey Reports) that conceived maleness as a physically fragile state. Chopra-Gant proposes other readings of the film shaped by differing viewer expectations: how might women have responded to Hitchcock's film? Other approaches might prove equally suggestive--for example, looking at a film's European reception, in cultures with quite different constructions of masculinity.

The third chapter discusses how motion pictures rewrite history, using Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915) as an example. …

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