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Genre as Pastiche in Women’s Filmmaking

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Abstract

This chapter provides a brief historical survey of conceptions of film authorship and genre with relevance to Harrod’s understanding of films analysed in the book, that is, notably as they intersect with questions of gender. It discusses the imbrication of genre and pastiche with the culturally feminised sphere of emotion. As well as drawing on the work of Torben Grodal and Richard Dyer, it dialogues with more recent scholarship in (queer) affect and embodiment studies, in order to refute certain gendered potential misconceptions about how genre films engage us that arise within or alongside these fields. These arguments comprise the basis of a framework for understanding recent work by women genre filmmakers through (popular) cinephilia and especially a form of heightened genericity that relies centrally on a particular mode of audience address.

Production and reception are truly interrelated: a re-vision of auteurism can only be performed through an act of re-reading.

—Christina Lane, Feminist Hollywood

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Other prominent examples proscribing the mainstream for feminist (and other anti-establishment) filmmakers include the work of Stephen Heath, Mary Ann Doane and, earlier in her career, Claire Johnston (see Garrett 2007: 27); see also Harrod and Paszkiewicz (2017: 1, 7) on the attendant privileging of the avant-garde by feminist film scholars.

  2. 2.

    Paszkiewicz’s decision to organise her study around a handful of key films from all different genres in fact arguably underscores difference more heavily than sameness, at least within the book itself. While she consistently and persuasively rejects discourses of exceptionalism undergirding traditional auteurism, the present approach of grouping films within sections corresponding to (broad) generic tendencies aims to enact the same ethics of inclusion and relationality promoted—so my argument—by its objects of analysis. It also simply facilitates discussing echoes and repetitions within genres.

  3. 3.

    This evolution has been of interest to feminist film histories concerned with female productivity and engagement for some years and its by now familiar contours are also detailed, for instance, by Anneke Smelik (1998: 38) and Christina Lane (2000: 42–44).

  4. 4.

    See also Tasker (2010: 214); Mayer (2015: 16).

  5. 5.

    Corrigan uses the phrase ‘the business of being an auteur’ but I find it unhelpful in a situation where the term auteur’s remit has hugely widened, arguably so as to simply indicate a culturally visible film author.

  6. 6.

    It is also thought that the second part of the word may come originally from roots meaning ‘to spread abroad’ and/or ‘to traffic in or sell’, which resonate equally strongly with concepts of generic narrative, especially in film. See http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=interpret.

  7. 7.

    Deleyto (2009: 2–3) brilliantly applies the critique of circularity to romantic comedy criticism.

  8. 8.

    For critiques of this view, see Williams (1984), Gallagher (1986) and Neale (1990: 58–59).

  9. 9.

    See, for instance, the current ‘Retrospective Serialization’ research project at the Freie Universität Berlin; Perkins and Verevis (2012).

  10. 10.

    See also Modleski (1991 [1982]); Ang (1985); Creed (1986); Gledhill (1987).

  11. 11.

    On the masculinity of formal approaches in general see Freeland (1996: 206), citing Irigaray. Janet Staiger (2000: 38) meanwhile critiques constructivist approaches to narrative cinema, notably in Hollywood, for privileging such ‘cognitive’ genres. On hybridity see also Staiger (1997).

  12. 12.

    Although Smith tends to treat style as independent of narrative.

  13. 13.

    A related problem concerns the fact that according to Grodal, in genre creation: ‘The more we strengthen the schematic relations between a given situation and possible future situations, and the more we limit the options [or overdetermine them], the more we increase the activation of tense or saturated experience [emotional engagement by the viewer]—up to a point’ (1999: 222, my emphasis).

  14. 14.

    On affect, see, for example, Pawel Prokopic’s ‘Affective Cinema’ project, which situates ‘affective significance’ as ‘outside of language, knowledge and (inter-subjective) communication’ and ties it to a ‘contingent manifestation of reality’. http://www.pavelprokopic.com/affectivesigns.html. For more recent examples of scholarship coloured by formalism, see Keating (2006), Smith (2007), who notably build on the work of Bordwell and Noël Carroll.

  15. 15.

    Martin Barker (2006: 126) makes the same point that ‘audience responses are always emotionally charged understandings and educated emotions. That is to say, there is no way of separating out the cognitive and the emotional responses, regarding these as separately shaped or driven’ (original emphasis).

  16. 16.

    Blackman’s extrapolation from Leys points to a cavalier slippage here between a speculative philosophical notion of unconscious collective knowledge and the experience of lived bodies.

  17. 17.

    Around the same time, even more strikingly, highly regarded cognitive behavioural psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihályi (1990) modelled a theory of how mental absorption itself affords pleasure.

  18. 18.

    Claire Hemmings (2005: 264) suggests Massumi’s arguments on this point are moreover based on a misreading of Deleuze’s theories.

  19. 19.

    For early and more recent examples, see Penley (1997), Coppa (2017).

  20. 20.

    See also Hemmings (2005); Pedwell and Whitehead (2012: 119).

  21. 21.

    Similar arguments have been rehearsed in relation to postfeminism , which can in this specific context be seen as a kind of subset of postmodernism. See, for example, Projansky (2001); Gill (2005); Tasker and Negra (2007, especially p. 15).

  22. 22.

    For examples, see Harrod (2016a: 70, footnote 15), following Garrett.

  23. 23.

    For instance, Sobchack’s (2004: 61–66) analysis of The Piano . I have noted elsewhere, following Jermyn, that in 2014 Potter had been the subject of two monographs and Campion seven (and the Belgian avant-garde director Chantal Akerman four) (Harrod and Paszkiewicz 2017: 18). Since then a call for contributions to a collection on her for Edinburgh University Press’ ‘ReFocus’ series has been circulated, while Kate Ince’s 2017 award-winning study of The Body and the Screen in films by Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, Catherine Breillat, Lynne Ramsey and Andrea Arnold develops transnationally the trend for feminist film criticism focusing significantly on the body. Lucy Bolton’s earlier (2011) work extended a comparable approach to Coppola’s work, alongside Potter’s and Ramsey’s.

  24. 24.

    My translation from the French audiobook D’après une histoire vraie, Chapter 51.

  25. 25.

    This is uncannily close to the definition of ‘affective signification’ offered by Prokopic cited in an earlier note and at: http://www.pavelprokopic.com/affectivesigns.html.

  26. 26.

    These notions also underline the distance of the texts I will analyse from Tasker and Negra’s condemnation of reflexivity as potentially conservative in some female-oriented genres (Tasker and Negra 2007: 15).

  27. 27.

    Audience, in this study, conflates the notions of spectator and viewer, implying both subjectivity and social identity.

  28. 28.

    Cf. Feminist scholar Cowie’s earlier (1997: 26) observation that cinema always comprises ‘an utterance or enunciation, an organised presentation of reality which presupposes an intelligibility of the utterance; it is organized for understanding’.

  29. 29.

    For examples of theorists recognising the inseparability of metafiction from other fiction, see, for example, New (2001: 48), Schaeffer (1999).

  30. 30.

    For instance, Baillargeon (2014), Richard (2015), Willman (2016), Harrod (2017). It is also likely that women’s ongoing identification with the private sphere predisposes them to be attracted to genres focused on everyday and personal narratives.

  31. 31.

    Such a description of genre films as reanimating past forms echoes scholarly discussions of prosopopoeic figures’ functioning as vessels of Derridean hauntology, which has in turn been linked to recuperating marginalised (colonial) subjects’ experience (Sheratt-Bado 2014: 100).

  32. 32.

    For Vicki Callahan, ‘the author is not so much dead as dispersed across an array of subject positions and sites of production/consumption.’

  33. 33.

    Needless to say, the women directors examined here are also embodied and it is very probable that their desire to create sensations in viewers is born out of their own similar experiences; however, this study is more interested in mass effects/affects than intentionality per se, without mentioning the challenges involved in measuring the latter, or the fidelity of results to intentions.

  34. 34.

    The same applies to the cognate work of Elena del Rio in film affect studies.

  35. 35.

    As I explore further shortly, Tarja Laine’s (2013: 1) approach is theoretically closer to mine in seeing affect and cognition as ‘inextricably intertwined’ in film viewing; however, in practice she still describes affect as operating through an ‘unthinking’ body.

  36. 36.

    https://www.thefreedictionary.com/fellow+feeling.

  37. 37.

    Gledhill notes, suggestively for my purposes, that an overemphasis on history is particularly inapt for melodrama as the woman’s film par excellence, since it is a form founded on plagiarism. She critiques, too, the risks that such approaches pose of returning genre scholars to the taxonomic trap. However, other scholars have an opposed view of Altman’s contribution to genre studies, with Lane (2000: 51) likening his work to Modleski’s and Mayne’s precisely on the basis of foregrounding textual multivocality.

  38. 38.

    ‘The Happiness Half Hour’, BBC Radio 4, 3 November 2020. BBC Radio Bristol—The Happiness Half Hour, 7. People like you more than you realise.

  39. 39.

    This and all subsequent references to Powers (2017) are to the Kindle edition.

  40. 40.

    In addition to the embodied spectatorship scholars already discussed, notable interventions include Doane (1987); Clover (1992); Smith (1995); Penley (1997).

  41. 41.

    Cf. Research into the role of autofiction in reconstructing obliviated historical (post-)memories in post-war and post-dictatorship Latin America by Mauricio Tossi and Ana Casas drawn on earlier in this section.

  42. 42.

    De Lauretis looks forward to such a perspective, however, when she argues that ‘sexual difference’ is a limiting category and that a heterogeneous address reflecting ‘differences among women’ is required for (cinematic) ‘revision’, or seeing with fresh eyes, as, in Adrienne Rich’s words, ‘an act of survival’ (de Lauretis 1988: 185). Such ideas help to explain why for many, as the title of Mimi Marinucci’s book has it, feminism is queer (Bradbury-Rance 2019: 176).

  43. 43.

    Sound is rarely considered in Galt’s book, although she notes that a decorative style can be defined by ‘an orchestrated system of sound, music, and image design’ (2011: 13).

  44. 44.

    Sound in (mainstream) narrative cinema must also conform to relatively predictable patterns to avoid simply confusing us. These arguments do not contradict Christian Metz’s (1974: 92–107) observation that paradigmatic choices in cinema are unlimited (in a way that is not true of verbal language) in the absolute.

  45. 45.

    As for Deleuze’s work on cinematic affects, there is much of use in his suggestion that films can produce sense not only at the narrative level but also through impersonal, auto-poietic processes that lend virtual intensities resonance (1990: 19, 187). His account of ‘automatic’ thinking seems to hint at the combination of rational and unconscious thought structuring my description of viewer engagement with genre, ‘arous[ing] the thinker in you’ (1989: 156) without limitation to representational aspects of the film: giving reason a passion through the power of cinema. Where I part company with Deleuze is in thinking that such processes are entirely divorced from representational aspects of film or that they require the kinds of anti-mainstream grammar he gathers under the rubric of the ‘time-image’ in order to be engaged.

  46. 46.

    Although Berlant does note her desire in closing her Introduction for further research into how ‘attachments make worlds and world-changing fantasies’ (1998: 8), one slight difference in emphasis between the two thinkers’ complementary work seems to be a greater emphasis in Berlant on how feelings are structurally dictated while Ahmed looks more often to how feelings might alter social structures. For further comparison between the two bodies of thought, see Berlant (2011: 13–15).

  47. 47.

    Gledhill is elsewhere explicit about the need for feminist readings to look beyond texts’ ‘progressiveness’ (1994: 121).

  48. 48.

    Cinephilia’s affective qualities have led to it being explicitly associated with prosthetic memory with varying degrees of explicitness (see, for instance, Faulkner [2015], Harrod [2016b]). More generally, cultural theory has not always seen audiovisual media’s propensity to elicit nostalgia in a positive light, with Fredric Jameson famously attacking American Graffiti on these grounds in a critique taken up more recently by, among others, Ryan Lizardi’s scathing analysis of contemporary Mediated Nostalgia as promoting widespread narcissism and a failure of true historical consciousness (2015: 17–19).

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Harrod, M. (2021). Genre as Pastiche in Women’s Filmmaking. In: Heightened Genre and Women's Filmmaking in Hollywood. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-70994-5_2

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