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Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

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Abstract

This chapter explores ‘docudramatic’ films that claim a direct relationship with the historical real. The latter includes here a range of spatio-temporalities, from the War on Terror to the USA of the 1960s and 1970s to eighteenth-century Europe. Harrod argues that the films examined in this chapter signpost the generic nature of human experience of the social world in a fashion that is significant across racial, gender and other identity categories, with pre-eminent reference to filmic genres. The films in this chapter, then, express most eloquently a sensibility attributed to Hollywood women directors’ recent popular cinephilic output in general, defined by a clear acknowledgement that mainstream genres structure lives.

I would argue that a politics that acts without reaction is impossible: such a possibility depends on the erasure and concealment of histories that come before the subject. There is no pure or originary action , which is outside such a history of ‘reaction’, whereby bodies come to be ‘impressed upon’ by the surfaces of others.

—Sara Ahmed , The Cultural Politics of Emotion

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-70994-5_4
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Figs. 4.1 and 4.2
Fig. 4.3
Fig. 4.4
Fig. 4.5
Fig. 4.6
Fig. 4.7
Fig. 4.8
Fig. 4.9
Fig. 4.10

Notes

  1. 1.

    See also Paget (2011).

  2. 2.

    An extreme case was Glenn Greenwald’s (2012) Guardian review, written before he had even seen the film.

  3. 3.

    For a full discussion of the extent of the CIA’s involvement, see Shaw and Jenkins (2017: 93–102).

  4. 4.

    Strange Days (995) is particularly obvious on this point by having the donning of a video headset allow wearers to experience prosthetic memories and emotions.

  5. 5.

    As have various other analyses, for instance, Burgoyne (2014); Nordine (2013: 76); Van Raalte (2017: 28).

  6. 6.

    Cf. Luke Collins’ (2012) reading of Point Break.

  7. 7.

    Shaw and Jenkins clarify that this is based on a real event (2017: 97).

  8. 8.

    Burgoyne later expands in this vein that ‘in a period when the cycle of revenge in war has escalated to almost a principle of statecraft, now dominated by bounties, extra-judicial killing, and payback, the film calls into view the costs of violence and its shaping effect on the imaginary and real textures of contemporary life’ (2014: 258).

  9. 9.

    See also Van Raalte (2017) and Burgoyne (2014: 249) on the film’s intimate address.

  10. 10.

    Stacey’s fourth example is the comparably enigmatic Orlando (Potter, 1992), famously focused on unexplained gender-switching and time-travel.

  11. 11.

    9/11: The Twin Towers (Discovery Channel/BBC1, 2006), Generation Kill (HBO, 2008) and Homeland (Showtime, 2011–) are three television examples mentioned by Lacey and Paget amid a possible list far too long to enumerate; in addition to the Iraq War films already listed, World Trade Center (Oliver Stone, 2006) is a famously controversial film example.

  12. 12.

    It took $133m worldwide, to The Hurt Locker’s $49m (see www.imdb.com).

  13. 13.

    As with Zero Dark Thirty, authenticity is further underlined by the film’s critical press, for instance, Greenblatt (2017: 45), De Semlyen (2017), Crook (2017: 32).

  14. 14.

    I am here indebted to Burgoyne’s (2014: 259) perceptive recognition of the applicability of Kevin McDonald’s ideas about jihadi videos to contemporary war films.

  15. 15.

    See Burgoyne (2008: 7) on the war film as a body genre or on horror Linda Williams’ original (1991) theorisation of this category, including also melodrama and pornography.

  16. 16.

    However, King does point out that it is common for such redemption to work intertextually—we might say, at the level of genre—since protagonists in these films often die yet are replaced by future avatars in similar narratives.

  17. 17.

    Freeman (2010: 12) suggests Freud’s claim that the ego and human subjectivity are constituted by pain can explain the formation of group identities.

  18. 18.

    Studies have shown that US doctors prescribe more anti-depressants proportionally to White than Black patients. The documentary Ouvrir la voix/Speak Up (Amandine Gay, 2017) focalises in the European context the phenomenon whereby, in the words of one interviewee, ‘When a black person’s suffering, it’s nothing to worry about.’

  19. 19.

    Figures sourced from www.imdb.com.

  20. 20.

    On this tendency, see, for instance, Foucault (1990 [1976]); Moi (1985: 167).

  21. 21.

    Rape was first made illegal in the USA because it was considered a property crime between men (Brownmiller 1975).

  22. 22.

    Although Detroit constructs the oppression of (White ) women as comparable to if less extreme than that of racial minorities, rather than exploring the raced nature of some women’s specific histories of oppression—unlike with its more intersectional look at the way in which the murder victims’ Blackness and masculinity together offend the White policemen.

  23. 23.

    However, see Projansky (2001: 1–2) on the ubiquity of discourses and images connected to rape across the US media since the 1980s.

  24. 24.

    My approach also bears comparison here with Laura U. Marks’ version of haptic criticism to the extent that this ‘invites the critic to have faith that these encounters [with texts] may be transformative but they need not be shattering’, drawing a comparison with Leo Bersani’s account of gay male sexual erotics (Marks 2002: xvi).

  25. 25.

    http://www.dictionary.com/browse/fetishise?s=t.

  26. 26.

    See also https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-45261381.

  27. 27.

    This is particularly apparent in discussions of the trauma of 9/11, in some ways echoing—as King notes—Judith Butler’s work on this subject (King 2011: 121, 128). She also draws a more general comparison with Susan Jeffords’ and Barbara Biesecker’s work on the male body’s representational function as a tool for rewriting national history (ibid.: 6).

  28. 28.

    The ongoing racialisation of rape myths in Western culture as a whole has likewise been prominently manifested in recent years by the cultural panic surrounding stories of sexually motivated attacks on German women by migrants on New Year’s Eve 2015–2016.

  29. 29.

    The year 2018 also marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the brutal, racially motivated murder of the British teenager Stephen Lawrence and the inauguration of a national Stephen Lawrence Day in the UK to take place every year on 22 April in commemoration of his life.

  30. 30.

    The suppression of past histories of exploitation and violence is similarly critiqued by Jordan Peele’s latest film Us (2019), also in a fashion that takes in but wholly transcends race relations.

  31. 31.

    As James Steenland (2019) has also pointed out, such an apprehension gives the lie to Jeanne Theoharis’ (2017) critique of the film as ‘the most irresponsible and dangerous movie of the year’ on the grounds of omitting Historical details of a 1967 people’s tribunal concerning the events—a critique of selectivity that is itself selective.

  32. 32.

    Sims also critiques profiting from ‘someone else’s history’. However, after the controversies and relatively low takings of Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow could easily have chosen a safer, more bankable project if this had been an overriding motivation; indeed, it was considered a flop due to its high budget.

  33. 33.

    It is apt that Galt (2011: 265) and I also coincide in finding Ahmed’s use of the term orientation suggestive here.

  34. 34.

    If the Real is anywhere in Detroit , it rises up in the bile Dismukes throws up after the betrayal of justice that occurs in the trial’s outcome, a reaction against the vanishing discursive presence of any reality outside institutionally endorsed representations, even when there are several dead bodies to contradict this version of events.

  35. 35.

    Bigelow’s use of form to reference her own oeuvre is also identified by Benson-Allott in a discussion of Blue Steel , where she claims Bigelow’s use of blue gels creates ‘a kind of temporal layering’ (2010: 37).

  36. 36.

    See also Grant (2004) on Bigelow’s meta-cinematic interrogation of ‘male’ genres.

  37. 37.

    See Martin (2017: 10) on the use of lighting to attempt to recreate the look of archival news footage for the street sequences and Grant (2004: 371), among others, on Bigelow’s focus on vision.

  38. 38.

    Angela Ndalianis (2004) links ‘neo-baroque’ aesthetics in contemporary entertainment culture to multi-sensory stimulation.

  39. 39.

    Shots of the ocean emblematise this approach in films by Jane Campion, Claire Denis, Agnieszka Smoczynska and Célina Sciamma, among others.

  40. 40.

    Galt’s (2011: 22) brief account of the potential (feminist) politics of Marie Antoinette’s ‘prettiness’ is also concerned with film style conceived on the whole transgenerically, while Backman Rogers’ following situation of Coppola’s feminist politics in ‘production design’ (2019: ‘Introduction’), despite her study’s repeated recognition of Coppola’s interest in film history and cliché, is openly anti-generic.

  41. 41.

    Cook sees the film as entirely ‘overturning genre expectations’ (2014: 224).

  42. 42.

    Paszkiewicz also notes that Marie Antoinette ‘could […] be placed within this tradition’ (2018: 186).

  43. 43.

    Like Francis Ford Coppola, Scorsese was a key member of the group of filmmakers associated with the so-called American New Wave, beginning in the 1960s.

  44. 44.

    Indeed, both films are part of series of versions of the same respective tale, as both were already adapted for cinema from novels.

  45. 45.

    While some scholars might argue that Dunst in Marie Antoinette is less objectified than Adjani in La Reine Margot , Backman Rogers notes that defences of Coppola’s supposedly exceptionally feminine gaze tie themselves in knots (2019: ‘Introduction’).

  46. 46.

    Cf. Handyside argues anachronistic objects in Marie Antoinette highlight ‘the gap between the time period depicted and the time of the film, as if here objects will be able to compensate for lack of historical proximity’ (2017: 121).

  47. 47.

    Handyside (2017: 158) finds the sequence to suggest female proto-queer sociality through mise-en-scène. The use of layering also chimes with Bradbury-Rance’s description of lesbian sensibility as overdetermined and its visual figuration ‘a necessary pastiche’ (2019: 136, 142) and, more importantly, reproduces a refusal of heteronormative future-directedness that is inherent to all generic repetition.

  48. 48.

    Samiha Matin offers a subtle critique of complex affect expressed through style as a ‘reproduction strategem’ in Marie Antoinette without considering genre directly at any length (2012: 108).

  49. 49.

    Figures sourced from www.imdb.com.

  50. 50.

    Hardwicke’s longstanding interest in promoting Latinx women in a predominantly White society is evidenced by her inclusion of Dolores del Río in her 1993 design for Hollywood’s La Brea Gateway, ‘Four Silver Ladies of Hollywood’. She also reputedly lobbied for a more ethnically diverse cast in Twilight (Sharf 2018).

  51. 51.

    On homosociality specifically in erotic triangles like the one between Peralta, Adams and Kathy Alva, for instance, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s extrapolations of René Girard’s claims that, in her words, ‘in any erotic rivalry, the bond that links the two rivals is as intense and potent as the bond that links either of the two rivals to the beloved’ (1985: 21).

  52. 52.

    It seems likely that her own history of working on ‘masculine’ genre films including Tombstone (George P. Cosmatos and Kevin Jarre, 1994) and Gulf War drama Three Kings (David O. Russell, 2000) was a factor in Hardwicke’s readiness to explore masculinity here.

  53. 53.

    Cf. Ariana Cavarero’s (2016) critique of patriarchal ‘rectitude’ through (her book’s title) Inclinations.

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Harrod, M. (2021). Art Imitating Life Imitating Art. In: Heightened Genre and Women's Filmmaking in Hollywood. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-70994-5_4

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