Complicitous Critique, A Hollywood Tradition
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This thesis considers film as a unique medium capable of inviting viewers to engage in an existential consideration of social, political, ethical, and intellectual problems. It addresses the limitations that existing scholarship place on the potentiality of film as a medium by arguing that these limitations are often the result of a failure to consider film’s essential and self-conscious ability to be critical of its modes of production, the industry surrounding it, the ideas it expresses, and the audience that consumes it. Considerations from Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno contribute to the creation of an alternative theoretical perspective, one which identifies film’s critical capabilities and lays the groundwork for viewers to engage with and learn from the critiques offered by film. Further, this thesis demands renewed scholarly consideration of film as an opportunity for viewers to consider the political, social, and intellectual issues of their age in an authentic and individual ritual. This thesis demonstrates the advantages of this perspective through formal and theoretical readings of Sullivan’s Travels (Sturges 1941), Citizen Kane (Welles 1941), and shorter focused readings of connected themes found in A Star is Born (Wellman 1937), The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli 1952), and The Crowd (Vidor 1928). These readings draw from established readings in order to elucidate the advantages offered by this new theoretical approach to film. Further, this thesis demonstrates the persistence of film’s critical capabilities throughout Hollywood history by drawing connections between films from the Classical era and Postmodern era. Contemporary films under consideration include Fargo (The Coen Brothers 1996), O Brother Where Art Thou (The Coen Brothers 2000), Adaptation (Jonze 2002), Burn After Reading (The Coen Brothers 2008), and Inception (Nolan 2010). This thesis thus defends the position that film’s unique ontological structure consistently enables it to invite viewers to join it in a critique of the cultural, economic, political, and social structures from which it arises. Further, film satisfies the same pedagogical demands placed on classic works of literature and painting, and enables viewers to engage in the work of existential self-creation so that they can become mature social and political agents.
philosophy of film
Leckey, Brittany White (2015). Complicitous Critique, A Hollywood Tradition. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from