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June 1995, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Gloria Monti <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 7 Jun 1995 18:00:09 -0400
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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On Tue, 6 Jun 1995, Birgit Kellner wrote:
>         I admit that conditions of employment did not occur to me, when I
> asked "why should actors and their characters be of the same race", because
> my question was directed at the output (films as wee see them) rather than
> at the input (films how they are made, or how they should be made).
        Can the two moments be divorced from one another?  Can one film text
be read in a vacuum, only diegetically?  Most importantly, don't you
think that what we see in films depends largely on the extradiegetic
information we bring to those film texts as readers?  And "we" certainly
do not all see the same things in films.
>         Gloria Monti wrote about "misrepresentations". During the last
> weeks, I happened to watch two films, both of which involve
> "misrepresentations" in some sense, both of which, coincidentally, were
> directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and both involve "misrepresentations" within
> the realm of white characters
>         But where is the "mis" in the misrepresentation? Hitchcock, an
> Anglo-American, depicts Germans as he sees or hears them. This doesn't mean
> that he has to represent them as they hear or see themselves. Their
> foreignness is adequately dealt with (they are distinctly non-American), and
> subtle distinctions within the realm of that foreigness are irrelevant,
> anyway. The "misrepresentation" shows a certain misinformedness about the
> intricacies of German dialects or idioms, which makes infantile know-alls
> like myself raise their voices, but that's about all there is to it. In
> other words: The "verisimilitude" doesn't matter in this case. Where does it?
        Let me go back to something you said earlier and which is at the
forefront of my concerns with filmic misrepresentations: historical
perspective.  When I think, discuss, write, teach misrepresentation, I am
not addressing European-American characters, unless they are
misreprenting minority cultures.  In other words, "misrepresentations
within the realm of white characters" is not the point here--for me, at
least.  I am not establishing a hierarchy where some misrepresentations
are better than others, I am just invoking history to point out that
certain misrepresentations have hurt certain communities--on and off screen.
        For example, to hear an adult African-American male being
addressed as "boy" on the screen has repercussions that the oddly out of
place, idiomatically curious, and hilariously mis-accentuated German
spoken in *Torn Curtain* does not.  It does not for the performers
themselves and for the German people.  It is Ingrid Bergman--just tp cite
one example, who asks: "Who's the boy playing piano?" in Casablanca, referring
to Dooley Wilson (I am grateful to Stam&Shohat for this reference).
        To depict people as one sees or hears them can be extremely
dangerous for those people.  And I am *not* referring to Hitchcock &
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