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1. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Daniel Flory Editor's Introduction
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2. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Dominic Lash (Re)producing Marriage: Stanley Cavell and Phantom Thread
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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.
3. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Joseph Kupfer The Vicious Undertow of Vanity in Young Adult
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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.
4. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Steven G. Smith Historical Realization in Godard’s Histoire(s) Du Cinéma
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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.
5. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Meribah Rose Pedro Almodóvar’s Communities of Circumstance
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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.”
6. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Thorsten Botz-Bornstein Blade Runner 2049: Reproduction, the Human, and the Organic
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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.
7. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Pamela Foa The Philadelphia Story: Growing Up Is Hard to Do
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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.
8. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 25
Notes on Contributors
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9. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Daniel Shaw Editor’s Introduction
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10. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Joseph Kupfer Art and Integrity in The Fabulous Baker Boys
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The title of the film by Steve Kloves (1989) refers to the dual-piano, languishing lounge act performed by two brothers. The resurgence and demise of the musical team is brought about by the addition of a sultry, female vocalist--Susie Diamond. Embedded within the story is an exploration of integrity and its augmentation by the virtues of courage and honesty. Integrity marks an individual whose self is a coherent, consistent whole. Important elements of the individual’s personality are mutually supportive rather than being disparate or in conflict. The integrity scrutinized by the film is Jack’s; it involves the younger brother’s inconsistent fidelity to his considerable musical talent. Late in the story we learn that he despises performing the popular musical fare with his brother and that he really wants to be creative, playing jazz. Although Jack is shown playing piano with modulated passion at a jazz club, we infer that he does so infrequently. Jack’s older brother is not in conflict with himself because his talent is suited to playing the bland tunes that are the staple of the act. Jack’s integrity is compromised because his commitment to his art is half-hearted; he cannot make the leap of faith--in himself. He knows that he hates playing the lounge music, is moved by jazz, and has considerable ability. Jack therefore realizes, however vaguely, that he ought to give himself to the music he loves, despite the risks this would entail. The trajectory of the film-story can be viewed as Jack finally summoning the courage to honestly confront his struggle with integrity and deciding to do something about it.
11. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Sander Lee Elia Kazan and the Hollywood Blacklist: Some Philosophical Reflections
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In April 1952, Elia Kazan appeared before HUAC and named names. Although he refused to do so in an earlier appearance, this time, having been warned that his film career was in jeopardy, he named many of his colleagues and friends. While he is far from the only one to turn informer, his case garners the most attention for a variety of reasons. In this essay, I examine Kazan’s justifications for his acts, acts that contributed to the destruction of the careers of many of his talented colleagues and friends. I wish to discover whether his arguments are philosophically plausible and how the themes in his film On the Waterfront (1954) contribute to the debate over these issues. In contrast, I examine the film High Noon (1952), largely seen as an attack on the practice of informing. I examine how Utilitarian and Kantian moral theories might be used either to justify or condemn Kazan’s actions. Finally, if we stipulate that Kazan’s acts before HUAC were immoral, does this mean that we should boycott his art or deny him accolades that his work would otherwise merit?
12. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Frank Boardman Realism about Film and Realism in Films
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Realism has a significant place in the history of film theory. The claim that film is essentially a realistic art form has been employed to justify the art-status of films as well as the distinctness of film as a form. André Bazin and others once used realist ontologies of film to try to establish realist teleologies and universal critical standards. I briefly sketch this history before considering the prospects for various versions of realism: Bazin’s, as well as Kendall Walton’s and Gregory Currie’s less ambitious but more plausible accounts. I argue that these theories, though they are the best cases we have for realism, are not adequate ontologies of film. However, while prior realist philosophers and critics were wrong to think that realism can provide a critical standard for all films, realism is nonetheless a praiseworthy filmic achievement - one that the opponent of ontological realism should not dismiss.
13. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Shannon Brick Identifying Documentary; Against the Trace Account
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This article argues that we ought to reject Gregory Currie’s “Trace Account” of documentary film. According to the Trace Account, a film is a documentary so long the majority of its constitutive images are traces of the film’s subject matter. The argument proceeds by considering how proponents of the Trace Account could respond to Noel Carroll’s charge that their analysis is radically revisionary. I argue that the only responses available are either implausible or show that a fully worked out version of the Trace Account collapses into Carroll’s own, rival definition of documentary. I then consider how advocates of the Trace Account might attempt to rescue the theory by reframing it as an account of a genre or as a theory of evaluation and argue that neither attempt would succeed. Given this, we ought to embrace Carroll’s own account of documentary, according to which a film is documentary if and only if it is a film of presumptive assertion.
14. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Fred Rush Sotto voce: Inscription as Voiceover in Malick’s Days of Heaven
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Terrence Malick’s widespread use of voiceover is generally noted, as is its nonstandard bearing. Malick’s use of voiceover is non-standard in virtue of its loose narrative fit. That too is often marked. Much less discussed is the philosophical basis for Malick’s voiceover, more specifically its ontological function in bounding the filmworld with intentionality. This paper addresses such ontological questions. It first develops a general schema for voiceover and Malick’s use of it in several of his films. Malick’s discovery of the potential for oblique forms of voiceover in Truffaut is treated. The discussion then focuses on the film Days of Heaven (1978) and, in particular, on an undiscussed and easy to miss visual riddle in one of the key scenes, involving the marriage of two of the principal characters. The riddle concerns an inscription in what for most viewers will be indecipherable symbols written on a backdrop formed by the side of a wagon. It turns out that the inscription is in Blackfoot syllabary and translates the opening of the Te Deum prayer. The paper argues that the inscription is best understood as a cousin to voiceover and, in particular, to Malick’s conception of voiceover. The inscription has, accordingly, an ontological and critical function in conjunction with the scene it accompanies. The paper concludes with remarks concerning The New World (2005), a Malick film that includes several prayers in voiceover and more comprehensively and resolutely represents the linguistic presence and expressiveness of Native Americans.
15. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Shawn Loht Drapers and Gardeners: Two Case Studies in the Cinema of Existential Conscience
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This article examines Martin Heidegger's concept of conscience in Being and Time as it is manifested by the characters Don Draper from the television series Mad Men (Matthew Weiner, 2007-2013) and Chauncey Gardiner in the film Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979). The article suggests that Draper hears and occasionally responds to what Heidegger terms the “call of conscience,” whereas Gardiner neither hears this call nor responds to it. Gardiner poses a problem case for Heidegger’s account of Dasein by virtue of failing to exhibit conscience. A question latent in Gardiner’s makeup is what causes him to be this way. The contrast of the characters Draper and Gardiner is approached through the lens of the portrayal of secret identity in filmic media. Both characters live public lives that are at odds with their genuine selves, but they react to this disconnect differently. Core concepts addressed vis-a-vis Heidegger’s account of conscience include facticity, falling, discourse, authenticity, and death. The article concludes that Draper hears and responds to conscience’s call because he has a discursive comprehension of the disconnect between his true self and the public life he has lived; a crucial component of the phenomenon of conscience according to Heidegger is the existential capacity for discourse. Gardiner, in contrast, does not hear conscience at all because his Dasein lacks the discursive element that conscience requires in order to be activated. Gardiner’s being-in-the-world is such that he fails to understand the divide between his lived self and his public self. For Gardiner, these are the same.
16. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Jan Maximilian Robitzsch Real and Simulated Relationships in Spike Jonze’s Her
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This paper is dedicated to Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her and reads the film as an exploration of whether traditional human-human relationships could be replaced by relationships between a human being, on the one hand, and an intelligent machine or robot or – more precisely – operating system (OS), on the other hand. It argues that the movie offers three different possible criteria for dismissing a relationship with an OS: (1) that an OS does not have a body, (2) that an OS is of superior intelligence, and (3) that a relationship with an OS is, in an important sense, not ‘real’ or ‘genuine.’ However, the paper concludes that Her ultimately leaves open whether any of these criteria are decisive; at the end of the movie, it is unclear whether the protagonists, the professional letter writer Theo (Joaquin Phoenix) and the OS Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson), have had a real relationship, prompting viewers to reflect more on the existential implications that may result from romantic relationships between computers and human beings.
17. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Kyle Barrowman Morals of Encounter in Steve Jobs: J.L. Austin, Stanley Cavell, and the Possibilities of Ordinary Language Philosophy
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In this article, the author argues for the probative value of ordinary language philosophy for the discipline of film studies by way of an analysis of the conversational protocols discernible in the film Steve Jobs (2015). In particular, the author focuses on the work of J.L. Austin, specifically his theory of speech acts and his formulation of the performative utterance, and Stanley Cavell, specifically his extension of Austinian speech act theory and his formulation of the passionate utterance, and analyzes the interactions between the titular character and his daughter through this unique Austinian/Cavellian lens. In so doing, the author endeavors to encourage more scholars in the field of film-philosophy to explore the key concepts and arguments in ordinary language philosophy for use in analyzing films. Despite its having been virtually ignored by film scholars over the last half century, one of many regrettable effects of the Continental bias of film scholars generally and film-philosophers specifically, the author contends that ordinary language philosophy provides powerful tools for the analysis of dialogue and communication in film, with Steve Jobs serving as a particularly insightful test case of the broad utility of ordinary language philosophy for film studies.
18. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 24
Keith Dromm CGI and Affective Responses to Narrative Films
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Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has transformed filmmaking. It has made it possible to film scenes that could not even be conceptualized without such technology. It has also made it easier to film many other types of scenes by relieving filmmakers of the need to reproduce entirely narrative elements at the profilmic level. For example, instead of performing dangerous stunts or creating expensive sets, filmmakers can create these elements digitally. This paper details how this advantage of CGI deprives filmmakers of a technique for enhancing audiences’ affective responses. When elements are duplicated at the profilmic and narrative levels, the overall affective response can be enhanced by eliciting the same affective responses to both levels. I label this phenomenon affect doubling. The dominance of CGI threatens to render this technique obsolete.
19. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 23
Daniel Shaw Editor’s Introduction
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20. Film and Philosophy: Volume > 23
Richard Nunan Emergent Philosophical Content in Ex Machina
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