Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Feeling Yourself Disintigrate: The Aviator as History

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Feeling Yourself Disintigrate: The Aviator as History

Article excerpt

Résumé: Cet article fait une lecture détaillée de L'Aviateur (2004) de Martin Scorsese et soutient que la dimension du jeu d'acteur est importante lorsqu'on rend compte du film de façon historique. Les détails de la performance de Leonardo DiCaprio en tant qu'Howard Hughes ainsi que la visée explicite du film qui est d'insister sur cette performance à l'intérieur des paramètres plus généraux de la mise en scène, incarnent la conception que le film véhicule à propos du personnage de Hughes et des événements historiques représentés. Dans l'historiographie implicite du film, la souveraineté de l'acteur en tant qu'individu est sérieusement remise en question - et ultimement effacée - par l'empiètement des différentes conceptions que l'on se faisait, en temps de guerre, du capitalisme. Dans cette perspective, le couple DiCaprio/Hughes devient le foyer de notre capture du passé : le corps de l'acteur, saisi à travers une gestuelle d'inquiétude, est à l'image de l'expérience historique sinistre dépeinte par le film. Dans L'Aviateur, les véritables effets de l'histoire ne deviennent visibles que par une gestuelle désordonnée et le sommaire compulsif d'actions futiles.

BODY SNATCHING: MARTIN SCORSESE'S HISTORICAL FICTIONS

In his wide-ranging theoretical reflection upon history in film, William Guynn claims that the "excess of mise en scène" constitutes an "inherent danger" for any historical fiction.1 The "world of the past," he writes, "can be invoked in such richness of detail that the spectator can fantasize the presence of history and engage in a relationship with the actor/character that ignores the distance between the instrument of representation and the historical person."2 The cinema's capacity for dense physical restorations, or rather, its apparently easy circumvention of the difference between past and present, is in this sense both a unique source of speculative knowledge (the past may have been like this) and a potentially "great problem" in any historical fiction (this is the past).3 In other words, the tangible presence of mise en scène can, according to Guynn, produce salutary effects, but at the same time might inadvertently encourage an uncritical flight of the spectatorial imagination and one's belief in an ersatz history.

This, of course, is a familiar critique of historical filmmaking, a lingering inheritance from 1970s film theory and its thoroughgoing suspicion of representation and its inherent dangers. But the actor's presence clearly constitutes an exceptional kind of danger in Guynn's explication here, insofar as his discussion of the world of the past concludes with a more narrowly conceived spectatorial relationship with figures on the screen: fantasy, identification, and an attendant lack of lucidity are likely effects of the actor's embodiment of historical personages. According to this formulation, an actor's performance and its potential distance from historical referents comprise a singular aesthetic quandary for historical filmmaking: an inscription from the present, the actor's presence invariably reorients our relationship to representations of the past. Should a film therefore work at reducing this irremediable difference between an actor's body and its historical model in order to encourage the spectator's immersion in a film's diegesis? That is, should an historical film simply create performances according to the historically shifting criteria of what we commonly call "realism?" Or should it instead emphasize the distance between performance and referent in the manner of 1970s film theory's Brechtian prescriptions? In short, how can the actor become a medium for historical meaning in the context of this particular aesthetic quandary? How can the historical past be refracted through the details of his/her performance?

Performance in Hollywood's historical films is a regular source of critical consternation, and the actor's presence is perhaps best understood not as a spur to identification (Guynn's formulation above), but rather as an obstacle to immediate spectatorial engagement. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.