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July 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
John R Groch <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 25 Jul 1994 15:26:55 -0400
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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On Mon, 25 Jul 1994, Guy Rosefelt wrote:
> >>Finally, a small moment that made a big impact
> >>on me: Charlton Heston's first line was to dismiss an African-American
> woman
> >>from their high level meeting "That will be all Francis" or some such.
> What
> >>was the point?  She existed in the film only to be dismissed.  We don't
> As in life, when you go to a meeting someplace, and someone who works there
> walks
> in for a moment and leaves, you don't know who they are or what they do.  Do
> you
> get hung up when they leave?
> Guy
The problem here, Guy, is your use of the phrase "as in life." Though
movies frequently strive for realism (as Cameron claims he did in _True
Lies_, apparently without a trace of irony -- see this week's
_Entertainment Weekly_), realism and life are not the same thing.  So,
though that moment did provide the feel of a meeting finally getting under
way because Arnold had arrived, deliberate decisions were made:  first,
that the start of the meeting would be signaled by someone being dismissed
and, second, that that someone would be an African-American woman.  Such a
decision is not just realistic (it is perhaps not even realistic); it is
also and primarily ideological, especially in a movie in which white
people are uniformly good (except one insignificant little toady of a car
salesmen) and people of color are uniformly evil (the Arab terrorists, the
Eurasian arts dealer) or non-existent (are there any African-Americans in
that film other than Francis?  I don't recall any).  And this is the
problem!  The film -- and you -- invite us to chill out and just read the
films codes as "realism," but then propose that "reality" is about heroic
white folks vs. evil people of color.  Many of us very rightly reject that
message (and it is a message), both because it is racist and because we
find laughable the notion that "in life" the good guys are EVER white boys
working for a super-secret arm of the US's national security apparatus
(let's call this the _Mississippi Burning_ problem).
If this issue continues to interest you, I would direct you to the most
obvious starting point:  Roland Barthes' _S/Z_, in which Barthes discusses
the ideological ends to which Balzac utilized realism in his work.
John R. Groch <[log in to unmask]>            |  "Work!  FINISH!  THEN sleep."
English Department/Film Studies Program    |     -- The Monster,
Univ. of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260  |        "Bride of Frankenstein"