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June 1994


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Tom Byers <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 15 Jun 1994 15:06:02 EDT
text/plain (36 lines)
Department of English, University of Louisville
Phone: (502)852-6770 or (502)852-6801. Fax: (502)852-4182.
It's fascinating to me that KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN came up here, because I
was thinking of the film version of it in connection w/ Griffith. I regularly
teach BIRTH OF A NATION precisely for purposes of discussing the film's
aesthetic qualities, its racism, and the relation between the two. One thing I
point outt o the class is how the conventions of screen narrative and
representation function to make us emotionally side w/ the KKK--this, it seems
to me is a valuable lesson in the power of form, of certain filmic techniques.
And it's what leads me to KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN, where I was strucxk by how
the William Hurt character is completely swept away by the Nazi screen
romances because of their powerful use of romance conventions--and he simply
ignores the fact that the tragic lovers are also Nazis. In any case, there's
certainly no reason not to bring up both aspects of Griffith. The fact that
they coexist in BIRTH teaches the sad truth that greatness in art is no
guarantee of anything in terms of politics or values--no matter how much I,
for one, would like it to be. On a related matter, it seems to me that it's
appropriate to teach past works in multiple ways--both in the context of their
time and in terms of "contemporary" values. I don't think that we need to get
rid of the ILIAD because it glorifies war, or THE TEMPEST because it glorifies
imperialism, or the whole history of western literature and art because
they're shot through with sexism--but I also don't think we have to ignore
those elements. To recognize that a work is simply expressive of its time is
not to say "therefore its sexism is a non-issue"; it's to teach a valuable
lesson about the work's time--about our history. When I teach Fenimore Cooper,
for instance, I do so in large part BECAUSE he is so much a product of and a
reflection of his time in his attitudes on race (when are, by the way, very
complex and interesting). It's wrong both to dismiss works of the past for
their politics, and to dismiss their politics because they're works of the
bitnet tbbyer01@ulkyvm; internet [log in to unmask]
Thomas B. Byers
Department of English/University of Louisville
Louisville KY 40292