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Über dieses Buch

A critical appreciation of close relationships in the modern American movie, looking in detail at contemporary Hollywood films which explore intimacy and the connections of characters, their surroundings, and points of film style. Peacock's close readings provide a fresh approach to understanding the big American film.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction

Abstract
There is a tendency in Film Studies to bemoan the output of contemporary Hollywood in terms of scale. Problems are seen to stem from both the vastness of the current day Hollywood system (the industry), and the shaping of contemporary American film as spectacle (the image). In terms of its industrial sway, concern is raised over Hollywood’s global domination, with emphasis on its control of the overseas market. In Global Hollywood, Toby Miller considers how ‘Hollywood owns between 40 per cent and 90 per cent of the movies shown in the world’ and how ‘Los Angeles-New York culture and commerce dominate screen entertainment around the globe’ (2001: 3–4). Equally, importance is placed on Hollywood’s current involvement and position in ‘vertically-integrated media conglomerates’, in which the major studios ‘serve as the base to dominate a plethora of media industries—from television to film, from home video to cable TV, from publishing to theme parks’ (Gomery 2000: 52–3).
Steven Peacock

1. Place and Patterning

Abstract
Elderly Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) makes the big decision to travel more than 300 miles to visit his ailing brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton). Due to his own deteriorating health, Alvin is unable to drive a car; doggedly, he determines to make the trek by the unusual and time-consuming method of riding a sit-on lawnmower across country. The great distance in miles is met by the extent of the men’s emotional separation, of the 30 years they have chosen to remain apart. As the film focuses on Alvin’s travels from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin, it presents a journey of immense personal importance over the awesome terrains of the American Midwest. Certain critics have alluded to the film’s handling of matters of magnitude within one man’s personal Odyssey. Stanley Kauffmann proclaims that ‘Lynch has made a small epic’ (1999: 28). Rather opaquely (though beautifully), Wesley Morris sees The Straight Story as ‘A journey film kissed by tiny magic’ (1999). Both remarks touch upon a key relationship in the film, of grand-scale matters (the ‘epic’ nature of this ‘journey film’) measured out in diminutive detail (the ‘small’ and ‘tiny magic’). This chapter explores the intricate facets of this relationship at work, of a significant journey formed through an accrual of illuminating moments.
Steven Peacock

2. Gesture

Abstract
Throughout The Insider, the legal weight of the confidentiality agreement prevents Bergman and Wigand from directly discussing hugely consequential information. Locked in intense discussion, the men are held apart by the document. As the confidentiality agreement hems and defines the characters’ negotiations, their gestures express a negotiation of obstacles (legal, linguistic, physical, and emotional). As they are unable to ask certain questions or provide certain answers, the two men gesture towards the truth. The characters clarify or obscure their standpoint and greater implications in their poise, stance, and posture, in each narrowing of the eyes or fidget of hands. As well as conveying a shifting relationship to surrounding barriers, the two men’s gestures express the gradual development of their friendship. Through gesture, the film conveys particular levels of engagement coming within—as a consequence of the confidentiality agreement—an enforced state of inaction.
Steven Peacock

3. Voice and Conversation

Abstract
As noted in the previous chapter, Newland and Ellen’s second meeting is brief, coincidental, and seemingly inconsequential. Attention to their words reveals a depth of impact. The chance encounter comes after the prestigious Beaufort Ball (an event marked, for Newland, by Ellen’s absence). Taking place on the threshold of the Mingott vestibule, this moment of shared time is seized amidst the chattering comings-and-goings of the characters. While the setting of the opera box held the characters still, caught in a suspended moment, the second meeting shows the couple caught up in a flurry of activity. Ellen and Newland must steal their time together, to create a moment of intimacy within the flow of a social visit. However, within these distinctions, the two separate meetings adhere. The characters find ways to create a sense of continuity through their spells of shared time. They attempt to build up a cohesive relationship through the fragments of their meetings. Such a connection occurs in the form of their conversations.
Steven Peacock

4. Music

Abstract
The film starts without music, without the annunciation of an imposing overture, or the introduction of an instrumental prelude. Yet it is not in silence. As a close shot of the family mailbox fills the frame, the sound of field crickets is equally assertive. The susurrations and rhythms of this natural noise swell and sound across the film, adding to the sense of density developing throughout. Whereas in other aspects the film achieves a tone of distinction between the ‘past’ and ‘present’ scenes, the blanket of whispered chirrups envelops both periods, sounding a note of correspondence between mother, daughter, and son. In the ‘past’ sequences, the thick zither of wings adds to the air of quiet suffocation, bleeding together with the hiss of steam from cooking pans. As the volume of chirruping rises at certain points, a more promising quality is noted. The sound accompanies Francesca and Robert on their trips to the covered bridges, and surrounds them as they stroll in the gardens of the Johnson home, after their first dinner together. A tension arises as the sound wraps around the characters. The noise is softly stifling; at the same time, the quiver of wings expresses a nervous awareness of possibility, a flicker of opportunity, a delicate desire to take flight.
Steven Peacock

5. Dissolve and Ellipsis

Abstract
In The Straight Story, a journey of months compacts into an hour-and-a-half of travelling. As the film shows the road in long shots at precise times, it shortens the way through dissolves and ellipses. Dissolves comprise a slow fade or bleed between two shots, connecting different points in space and time. In ellipses, edits compress long passages of time and cut out periods of journeying. Both stylistic techniques create a condensation of Alvin’s pilgrimage. Akin to the particular form and effect of the long shots (as addressed in Chapter 1), the film uses the elements of style to bypass the idea of an onerous voyage over great lands. It chooses not to stress or measure the toll of each step of the journey. Rather, the careful elision and bridging of points express the even restraint and discipline of Alvin’s efforts. The tight presentation of the trip, and of experiences along the way, increases the sense of closeness between the individual traveller and the road travelled.
Steven Peacock

6. Position and Perspective

Abstract
Drawing together the concerns of the book, this final chapter reaches back to considerations of place and patterning, to extend thoughts on the way that camera and character negotiate their wider environments. As Chapter 1 considers the films’ shaping of panoramic vistas and patterning of settings, this section attends to aspects of viewpoint and focus, on the way particular details are brought out across the breadth and width of the surroundings. It concentrates on the films’ channels of attention. The terms ‘position’ and ‘perspective’ here refer to the different ways a film’s camera and character are situated in, and make sense of, different environments. The camera’s placement, in distance and angle, offers graded perspectives on a film’s events. The precise changing position of the characters is equally significant, as they move and look around landscapes and locales. The shifting relationship between camera and character adds a further level of meaning. At times, they may share a viewpoint, in the film’s alignment of angles, patterns of looks, or use of optical point of view (POV). At others, the camera’s perspective on an event may contrast, in degrees, with the character’s position.
Steven Peacock

Conclusion

Abstract
This book has aimed to show that the expansiveness of contemporary Hollywood does not lead, inevitably, to distance and remoteness. Rather, it is a possibility of modern American film to organise its ‘big architecture’ to render expressions of human closeness. In the four films, expressions of intimacy stem, for example, from sweeping long shots of fields, a mobile phone connection across vast distance, the surging sounds of a song on the radio, the waft of a fan, and an array of exquisite objets d’art. Each film composes a broad canvas of precise patterns, arrangements, and concentrations of detail. The integration and refinement of potentially ‘bloated’ points of style express the closeness of the characters’ relationships. Further, the readings explore how certain expressions of intimacy may be best revealed within an environment of amplitude. For instance, in The Straight Story, the connection of Alvin to the land, and the urge and toil of his journey, are encapsulated in a dissolve moving mower across swathes of wheat. In The Age of Innocence, the fragile creation of a private, pocketed space is achieved and threatened by its place in the grandiloquent surroundings of a Society dinner. In the expansive worlds of the films, the balance and measure of a scenario conveys the characters’ own adjustments, arrangements, and situation. Alert to the pitfalls and possibilities of magnification in the medium of film, the four works conceive sensitive understandings of human affairs.
Steven Peacock

Backmatter

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