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ONLINE FIRST ARTICLES
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December 9, 2021
Particles of Light
The Final Frontier of Film
first published on December 9, 2021
This article addresses recent science fiction films about the colonization of outer worlds, or space-steading, in the context of the longer colonial history of the frontier. Paying particular attention to Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014), Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005) and The Wild Blue Yonder (Werner Herzog, 2005), I argue that colonizing outer space is not only a race to the new frontier, but that this takes place because technologies that picture space have quickened the pulse. Through its imagining of the end of times as a reiteration of colonizing adventure, and the emptying of people from their place, the technology of film has itself produced the accident (Virilio, 2007) of an uninhabited earth. As suggested by the cinematically derived kinesis of wormholes, space wrinkles, and warp speeds, what might be left as a form of life is none other than film itself. The hyper-kinesis of film spectacle takes on a non-human life of its own, which, in science fiction film, constitutes a form of self-alienation, removing viewers from the places they actually inhabit and displacing the histories they unfold. In this way, I address what is truly cinematic about the film frontier traversed by the new space of uber-masculine adventurer-settlers.
December 4, 2021
Historical Knowledge as Self-Understanding in the Films of Whit Stillman
first published on December 4, 2021
Whit Stillman’s films depict characters attempting to gain relevant knowledge of their historical situation so that they can shape their lives. Through an analysis of scenes from each of Stillman’s films, this essay demonstrates that historical knowledge is presented as a kind of self-understanding in the films. That historical knowledge is useful for gaining control over one’s future as well as for properly evaluating one’s life reveals a philosophically interesting approach to self-knowledge. Stillman’s complex approach of layering contexts further suggests an elusive account of the self.
Towards a Definition of Black Cinematic Horror
first published on December 4, 2021
In this essay, I sketch a preliminary, phenomenological definition of black horror cinema. I argue that black horror films are films in which blackness and antiblackness are depicted as unintelligible. I build this definition first by arguing that horror films generally evoke a mood of Heideggerian uncanniness, by which I mean that they create a global affective state in which the world is experienced as unintelligible. I then turn to the Afropessimist theorizing of Frank B. Wilderson, who proposes both that blackness and antiblackness are phenomenologically graspable as unintelligible, and that cinema resists this unintelligibility by warping blackness and antiblackness. However, I thus contend that black horror is an exception to this rule. Black horror films take advantage of horror’s uncanny mood to craft a filmic world in which blackness and anti blackness are unintelligible.
October 31, 2021
C. A. York
Fennell's Promising Young Woman and Furious Women in Film
first published on October 31, 2021
Emerald Fennell’s debut feature Promising Young Woman (2020) incisively examines sexual assault, misogyny, and the culture of complicity that continues to perpetuate `violence against women. This article will establish Fennell’s aptitude as a filmmaker in condemning the pervasive forces of patriarchal social order in harmony with Kate Manne’s account of structural misogyny analyzed in Down Girl (2017) and Entitled (2020). Fennell’s subversion of genre standards demonstrates how the actions of individuals, separate from the perpetrator, lead to additional acts of harm, and addresses the ever-present reality of male violence which the feminist-hero is, ultimately, unable to surmount. Despite arguments that Promising Young Woman has not met the expectations for change the me-too movement inspired, Fennell challenges conventions to expose misogyny and male violence asking that future feminist filmgoers consider a new way forward.
October 23, 2021
Tenet, Climate Change, and the Misdirection of Interpretation
Or, Does Christopher Nolan Not Know Who the Bad Guys Are?
first published on October 23, 2021
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet seems a spy thriller in which a government operative saves the world. As others have noted, it is in a larger sense about climate change—even though it mentions it but once. Where the film has been dismissed as not saying anything substantial, or even read as promoting an activist message, I argue it is most coherently interpreted as a reactionary defense of the status quo. The film is about a war between the present and future, its heroes those who beat back time travelers trying to prevent us from destroying the planet. If audiences are not passive recipients of propaganda, but critical and cognitive, then blockbusters need to distract them from unavowable larger meanings by redirecting interpretive energies into the details; plot holes are not a bug, but a feature. The meticulous, puzzle-box construction of Nolan’s films, which encourages elaborate fan theorizing, distracts both viewers and Nolan himself from their ideological content.
October 21, 2021
There’s Always More Show
The Impossibility of Remarriage in BoJack Horseman
first published on October 21, 2021
This paper casts the television series BoJack Horseman as a challenge to the genre that Stanley Cavell calls “the comedy of remarriage.” First, it is argued that the last season of the series explicitly suggests but finally contradicts the narrative pattern of the comedy of remarriage. Then, the impossibility of remarriage in BoJack Horseman is traced back to some structural features of the medium of television and its relationship to time. Finally, the impossibility of remarriage in BoJack Horseman is related to the capacity of the medium of television to enable self-defeating fictions which challenge fiction as a cultural institution.
October 20, 2021
Sander H. Lee
Film Gris v. Film Noir
Jon Tuska’s Distinction Revisited
first published on October 20, 2021
In this essay, I argue that the distinction between film gris and film noir, introduced by Jon Tuska in his 1984 book Dark Cinema, enhances our appreciation of the philosophical attributes of such films. For Tuska, there are important differences between a film gris and a film noir. While a film gris may have a number of noir attributes (a shadowy noir visual style, a gritty urban setting, cynical characters, etc.) a genuine film noir is not merely a police procedural and must not have a happy ending, I will also argue that a film’s narrative perspective plays a vital role in determining whether its status is that of a film noir. I will make these arguments by examining a wide variety of films including The Maltese Falcon (1941), Out of the Past (1947), He Walks by Night (1948), The Narrow Margin (1952), Double Indemnity (1944), Repeat Performance (1947), and The Wrong Man (1956).
August 14, 2021
Lorraine K. C. Yeung
Which Way Down the Slippery Slope: Arkangel or Digital Pacifier?
first published on August 14, 2021
The Black Mirror episode “Arkangel” tells a disturbing story of over-parenting driven by technology. The single mother Marie’s adoption of the Arkangel system has invited overwhelmingly negative moral evaluation from philosophers. But what accounts for the moral failure of a loving and concerned parent? Is it all about her flawed character, or are there situational factors at work? In the article, I first foreground the slipperiness of technology implicated in Albert Borgmann’s notion of the “device paradigm” and Hans Jonas’s analysis of modern technology. Then I analyze the character of the Arkangel system in the light of the two philosophers’ works and show how the technology turns Marie into a failing parent. In the end, I offer tentative answers to the two questions; the answers shall also shed light on the problem of under-parenting driven by digital technology.
March 10, 2021
The Philadelphia Story
Growing Up Is Hard to Do
first published on March 10, 2021
Contra Stanley Cavell in Pursuits of Happiness, I argue that in The Philadelphia Story Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) squanders her opportunity for a fully mature relationship when she rejects Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart) to remarry her former husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant). Critics of Cavell’s analysis of this film have generally accepted that at their remarriage Tracy and Dexter are perfect for each other, but disagree about which of the men in her life is responsible for her education and maturation. I argue, instead, that to become the intelligent, erotic, fully mature woman she can be, Tracy should have married Mike. To defend my view, I look at details in The Philadelphia Story that have not been widely noted (e.g. the wordless prologue and costuming) and offer a different interpretation of some other details that have been noticed. On my analysis, at the end of the movie, faced with the prospect of true autonomy, Tracy becomes so frightened that she abandons her agency and retreats to the stability and protection that her former husband represents.
Pedro Almodóvar’s Communities of Circumstance
first published on March 10, 2021
This article engages in a close analysis of community across the films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. What emerges from this is that while Almodóvar has a strong subversive streak, his films are deeply concerned with questions about how we might live together in the best way possible. Drawing on the feminist ethics of care—with its emphasis on the maternal as an ethical model—and the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, I argue that Almodóvar’s preferred communities are “communities of circumstance,” best conceptualized as dynamic networks of relations that respond directly to the varied needs of their members. Rather than fitting any fixed social boundaries, they emerge organically from lived experience. Ultimately, I conclude that Almodóvar’s films not only offer screen representations of communities of circumstance, but might contribute to our understanding of what it means to live in community in the “real world.”
March 6, 2021
Blade Runner 2049
Reproduction, the Human, and the Organic
first published on March 6, 2021
What is the “miracle” that protein farmer Sapper Morton mentions when he says to K: “You never saw a miracle”? It is the transformation of inorganic life into organic life. Rachael, who was a replicant in the old Blade Runner (though falsely believing she is human) gave birth to twins. Tyrell had “perfected procreation,” in the words of Niander Wallace, but his knowledge has been lost. The theme of 2049 revolves around the scientific and philosophical question whether machines can become organic. Is a human only an accumulation of parts or cells, or does the quality of being human denote more than the sum of its parts? Is a bioengineered human a real human or simply a sophisticated machine? Furthermore, the film associates the organic with the real. Real humans as well as real memories are linked to a larger whole. The article reflects these constellations against various philosophical stances.
Steven G. Smith
Historical Realization in Godard’s Histoire(s) Du Cinéma
first published on March 6, 2021
Based on a bold equation of cinema with history, Jean-Luc Godard’s essay-film Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1988–1998) provokes new thoughts about what historical understanding involves and how cinematic revelation can happen. This paper discusses how Histoire(s) engages conventional standards of historical understanding while also taking us into uncharted depths of historical realization, examining the undeniable historical evidence presented in the film (mainly documenting the content of Hollywood and European films along thematically suggestive lines), undismissable insights into relations among historical data, and possibly valid judgments of historical truth (notably that cinema failed in its essential mission by not filming the Holocaust). Reaching for non-obvious connections, Godard risks misleading decontextualization of his materials. But by stocking our minds with pertinent film selections, new treatments of those images, and various writers’ musings he draws us into his quest for a practically decisive realization of the significance of the recent history of our civilization.
February 24, 2021
Stanley Cavell and Phantom Thread
first published on February 24, 2021
This article considers aspects of Stanley Cavell’s film-philosophy in the light of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 film Phantom Thread, and vice versa. Methodologically, it concentrates on the interpretation of Cavell’s writing and of Anderson’s film. In arguing that Phantom Thread has affinities with Cavell’s famous cinematic genre of remarriage comedy, the article addresses Cavell’s understanding of the production of what Wittgenstein calls “criteria.” Affirming Steven J. Affeldt’s insistence that the production of criteria is occasioned by crisis, the article explores the claim that Phantom Thread can be viewed as the story of the production of criteria in response to a situation of interpersonal confusion and disorientation, criteria according to which a remarriage may, or may not, eventually take place. The results of this enquiry, it is hoped, will help both to clarify aspects of Cavell’s philosophy and to articulate something of the nature of the distinctive cinematic achievement that Anderson’s film represents.
February 23, 2021
The Vicious Undertow of Vanity in Young Adult
first published on February 23, 2021
The film Young Adult offers a striking example of vanity and its entanglement with other vices. Mavis Garry is prompted to return to her home town to woo a married, former beau out of vanity: an overweening desire to be admired for her appearance and authorship. Vanity involves wishing to be seen possessing something valuable that others lack and bestowing excessive attention on it, as in Mavis’s repeated physical preening and buffing. Because comparison is central to vanity, it contributes to Mavis’s envy. Vanity also encourages her arrogance by inflating Mavis’s distorted view of her self-worth. At the film’s climax, Mavis’s defects are publicly witnessed, producing in her the salutary moral experience of shame. However, Mavis’s incipient self-awareness and shame are dissipated by a few words from a fawning fan, as the undertow of vanity pulls Mavis beneath the clarity of the moral sensibility that was momentarily evoked by shame.